Friday, April 29, 2011

396. Kate Doesn't Do Laundry

Like everyone else on the planet, I got up early and watched the Royal Wedding in action. I loved every second of it: the pomp, the circumstance, the majesty, the dress, the music. I especially loved the sweet and happy look on Kate’s face as she said her formal vows to William. Then I dared to look closer. I froze my TiVo and stared intently at her sparkly blue eyes and that huge Colgate grin. That wasn’t the look of love. That was the look of a woman who never has to do laundry again.

Oh, sure, she’s got her hunky prince. She’s got designers falling all over themselves left and right to create couture dresses just for her. She’s got staff at and her beck and call to do whatever she needs—run out to Rite Aid for cough medicine at two in the morning—but the most impressive thing is, she can say goodbye to the spin cycle and dryer lint for the rest of her life.

She won’t miss fluffing out her wrinkled t-shirt wondering if she should try to “get one more day’s use out of it,” like I do. She won’t miss saying to William, “Hey! Stop leaving your socks inside out, they’ll never get clean that way!”

Sweaters that have to be hand-washed? Won’t miss. Bras that can’t go in the dryer? Won’t miss. Sundress that needs the delicate cycle? Won’t miss.

I can see her on the plane to her honeymoon efficiently writing out her thank you notes to her wedding guests, but then pausing a moment to write a special note to a significant person that was not actually invited, but will become an intimate member of her circle: I’m talking of course about Lady Laundress.

“Dearest Lady Laundress,

I know I have not yet officially met you, as I have been so busy with planning my wedding and all. I just wanted to say thank you in advance as I know we will be seeing a lot of each other over the next several years, and I really really appreciate that you will wash all my clothes, like, forever. That will save me tons of time, time I could spend better by visiting people in hospitals and fundraising for orphanages and the like. (And shopping. I’m not going to lie: I do like to shop and I might potentially spend some of my new found free time doing that, too, so thank you.)

What I am trying to say is: thank you. A lot. Thank you! Best eternal thanks and gratitude to you! And here is 1000 pound advance bonus to put us on immediate good terms.

Thank you very, very much! 


Princess Kate”

Girlfriend knows how good she’s got it.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

393. Oh Get A Job Already

Before I had children, I was working as a flight attendant and had a remarkable amount of free time on my hands. Not to brag, but sometimes I might only fly 13 days a month, which left me with 17 days off to do whatever I wanted.

I started to paint ceramics as a fun little hobby. I had grand plans to paint bowls and picture frames and trays and vases. The trouble was, even though I thought I was a good painter, I was not a good painter.

I would spend hours on my “creations” only to have my then-boyfriend (now-husband) comment, “Is that green thing supposed to be a skyscraper or a tree?”

“It’s a cat,” I would correct him, “anyone can see it’s a cat.”

“Don’t quit United,” he would say under-his-breath, while I would think: That’s it! I am so not painting you a new car-themed tissue box holder now!

The lucky recipients of my painting treasures just marveled at the sheer volume I managed to produce. “Did you paint this dolphin figurine on a layover?” my sister, Oakley, would ask innocently after she finished unwrapping her birthday gift.

“No, no, I did it on my days off.” I would beam at her as she set the dolphin on the shelf next to the red and green tea kettle and matching Santa teacups I painted her for Christmas and the florescent jack-o’-lantern I painted her for Halloween and the ceramic “basket” I painted her for Easter.

“When do you fly? Do you ever fly?”

The Husband was beginning to wonder this himself. “Sweetie, is today the day you go to Boston?”

“Nope, I’m off until next Wednesday, so I think I might go paint something today. Do you need some Fourth of July candlesticks?”

Finally, I woke up one morning and got smart: I could get a part-time job at the ceramic studio when I wasn't flying and they would pay me to paint! Or at least give me a 10% discount.

I walked into a new local shop that had recently opened in our neighborhood. A young woman wearing faded jeans, an oversized Def Leppard t-shirt, and a tattered black baseball hat was painting a detailed circus scene on the side of pitcher. A seal was lifting a ball on its nose, while smiling elephants lined up with pink dancers cavorting around them; the colors were bright and eye-catching. It looked exactly like an ad campaign for Ringling Brothers; I was suddenly overcome with an irrationally strong craving for buttered popcorn and cotton candy.

The lady glanced up at me, “May I help you?”

“Hi!” I began overenthusiastically, in case she happened to be the owner or the manager of the shop. “My name is MOV, and I’m interested in working here!”

She looked me up and down. I was wearing my best navy blue interview suit, complete with pearls, black patent pumps, and nude opaque panty hose. My hair was pulled back in a tight bun, and I had a navy and white abstract print silk scarf tied neatly around my neck. I was ready to paint a platter, or at least serve some peanuts and evacuate an airplane.

“Uh, do you have any painting experience?” she began warily.

“Sure! Lots!” I responded eagerly. I handed her my single-spaced resume on linen paper, and a list of twenty references. I was clutching a mug I’d brought in to show her.

“Here’s one of a sample best of favorite my painting work for see you look at!” I said gleefully, tongue-tied as a foreign exchange student on his first day in America. I shoved the mug at her, waiting for the accolades to begin.

She gingerly took the mug out of my hand. It was a mug I had spent several hours on—my masterpiece: a swirl of yellow stars in a cloudy blue night sky. On the handle of the mug in thick loopy black letters it read, “MOV’s Hot Chocolate.”

She inspected the mug closely, flipped it over, set it on the counter, then laughed out loud. She pointed to the patches of white that were supposed to depict clouds. “We can show you how to fix that,” she said dismissively. “So, anyway, the owner’s name is Patty, and she’ll be in later today. You seem cheery, and I know she’ll like that, but as for the mug … uh, you might not want to show her that.”

Fast forward a week and the job was mine. Patty was a terrific (if absentee) boss, and the circus-painting Brittany was my new manager and ended up becoming a close friend. The discount was better than 10% off, it was 75% off. My previous hobby morphed into a full-blown obsession.

I gradually got better and better at painting, and now I cringe when I see remnants of my so-called painting prowess from the era before I worked in the shop. I visit my dad and he serves cheese and crackers on one of my plates. “Ack!” I scream out in embarrassment, “Please throw that plate away.”

“What?” he says, shocked, “I love it. You painted it for me, remember?”

But I am such a better painter now. Let me paint you a new one.”

“No. I like this one,” he insists. Then, pointing at the detail around the edge, he adds, “Just look at these cute camels.”

“Those are flowers,” I murmur, “but they do sort of look like camels now that you mention it.”

(“Masterpieces Of Value”)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

392. Reminder Girl

Although I don't usually wear a red cape, I have a superhero role in life, and that role is: Reminder Girl. I am the one in my immediate family and in my circle of friends who ever-so-slightly nudges people to remember things. Some people might call this “nagging,” I prefer to see it in a more positive light.

Forget when your dentist appointment is? No problem, I remember. Do we have soccer practice on Tuesdays or Thursdays this season? Ask me. When should you turn in your special school project/ taxes/ mail a birthday card/ respond back to a party invitation? I know all this, and more.

When you wake up, I will remind you to write a check for the PTA fundraiser or your son’s school lunches. As you are walking out the door, I will let you know that the forecast is predicting storms, so you need a raincoat. Oh, and take the Netflix movie with you and drop it in the mailbox on your way to work. Did you put your homework in your folder or record your minutes on your reading log? No? That’s okay, I will prompt you.

All this reminding is wearing me out. No one reminds me of anything. I have to do enough reminding for three other people and a cat, plus myself. Self, remember to pick up Tall’s prescription. Self, the deadline for Short’s school registration forms is this week. Self, did you request off from work for the 26th? Better get on it.

My friends all know that when they schedule playdates with my children, they don’t even need to bother writing it on their calendar. Why would they? I will just email them a friendly note the night before:

Subject: Confirm Playdate Tomorrow.
Lisa, Short is so excited to come over and see Dylan tomorrow at 10 AM to play. See you then!

If I am going to the movies with a bunch of girlfriends, they’re all well aware that I will find out which theater, the start time, and coordinate carpooling. They can just sit back and relax, maybe take a quick nap while I figure everything out.

Is this a Virgo thing? Is this a mom thing? Is this a wife thing? What is this thing, this reminder thing, that has consumed my life? I am not being paid for it, although obviously I would make a damn fine office manager or personal assistant to a famous movie star, if only I could parlay this talent into a lucrative job.

That reminds me, I need to work on my resume.

(“Me: Obsessive Virgo”)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

391. Tipsy

I’ve always been confused about tipping. A dollar? 20%? Nothing? A five? Who knows. Entire libraries of books have been devoted to this very topic, and yet, even after reading all of them, I still have trouble getting it right.

I know I’m not the only one. One summer when I was in college, I hostessed at an elegant restaurant located on a lovely strip of beach in California. It was the type of place where men were expected to don a jacket and tie, and ladies felt compelled to wear lipstick, brand new stilettos, and outfits that most likely equated to a month’s rent for me. The dining room typically ran a wait of about two hours if you didn’t have the foresight to book a reservation eight weeks in advance.

Since I was the hostess, I was obviously the gatekeeper. If you tipped me $100, that pesky two hour wait evaporated into mere seconds while I quickly shuffled some papers around to miraculously find your “misplaced” reservation. I had your table for you, and that table was front and center on the window with the best view of surfers riding those movie-caliber waves.

Once, someone tried to tip me a dollar. One dollar. I glanced at the faded bill (which appeared to have gone through the dryer on the highest setting), looked at the gentleman, and politely gave the sad dollar back, saying, “Oh, thank you, sir, but we’re not allowed to accept tips.” Instead, he and his date waited patiently in the bar for the full two hours, and judging by his drunken demeanor when I finally awarded them their table, he had probably drunk $100 worth of alcohol while he waited. Perhaps that money would’ve been better spent on my tip.

I’m not saying that $100 was an appropriate tip for an 18-year-old hostess. It was excessive. I probably would’ve found him a very nice table for the bargain basement price of $50, maybe even $20. But $5? No. $10? Hope you enjoy sitting next to the restroom or busing station.

It’s easy enough to figure out the tip for the waitress when you’re at a restaurant and the bill comes to $50: good service merits 20%. But what if it’s a casual café where you order at the counter and then the girl brings it to you? In that case, 20% seems too high (and would I just leave the tip on the table? and if so, then isn’t a different person than the girl who took my order getting the money?).

What about hairdressers who charge $200? Is 20% okay? Is it too high? What if the person who does your hair is the owner of the shop? I’ve read that in that case, you should not tip. But I would feel embarrassed not to tip for fear of offending him.

And Starbucks?  Should I put a dollar in the tip jar for the clerk when my drink cost $3.85?  We had an interaction that was approximately 30 seconds long, and he's not even the one making my extra-hot grande triple latte with no foam.

I used to work at a paint-your-own pottery place.  I would work a child's birthday party and instruct 24 rambunctious five-year-olds on how to paint a ceramic giraffe or unicorn.  Then, I would paint the kids' initials on the pieces and glaze them while the rowdy wannabe Picassos bounced impatiently around the fragile shop.  Next, I would help the parents serve pizza and cake, and distribute goody bags.  Finally, I would clean everything up.  These birthday parties usually lasted two hours and cost $300.  And my normal tip for entertaining and instructing these little people I would never see again?  Zero.

That's right, the Starbucks cashier gets a dollar (or two!) for a time commitment of 30 seconds (Hello, may I take your order?) while I amuse two dozen kindergartners for two long hours for no tip, not even a piece of overly-sweet cake.

Apparently I am not the only one confused about tipping. 

Thank goodness I don’t live in New York, the capital of Tipping Wrong. Every time I go there, I get a complex within minutes of stepping off the plane. Everyone seems to have their hand out, and that hand is expecting crisp green dollars in double-digit denominations. The taxi driver who maneuvered you uptown through heavy traffic. The bell boy who carried your one small suitcase (but that you felt weird about saying No, I can carry it myself). The front desk clerk who just upgraded you to a suite with no extra charge. The concierge who scored you last-minute tickets to the theater. Everyone is waiting, and they are waiting for your tip, your gratitude, your mouth to open and the words pour out, “Thank you,” while you slip your hand quickly in your pocket and produce multiple pictures of a smiling Andrew Jackson.

You, yourself, however, are not smiling. You are worried you tipped too much. The bell boy practically does a back handspring when you hand him a ten, and you realize a five would’ve sufficed. The angry glare the doorman gives you tells you that maybe you should have upgraded that one dollar bill to a five when he hailed you a cab.

One day I woke up and realized I couldn’t handle it anymore. I am a bad tipper, I am an overly-generous tipper, I am a non-tipper. My life is one big swirl of dollar bills and they are all the wrong size.

I found an easy way out, a solution so I never have to tip again, ever:  I got married. Now, The Husband is in charge of tipping while I gather up our two sons and all their accoutrements and head to the car, turning to The Husband and saying loudly (in earshot of our beleaguered waiter), “Remember to tip well! They gave us great service!” That way, even if The Husband tips poorly—which I don’t think he would do—the waiter will say, “Well, at least his wife was nice. She told him to tip well.”

("Money Or Vexation?")

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

388. Your Kryptonite

So you’re working and you’re mom-ing and you’re just trying to scrape by, and that’s when it happenssomeone shakes your life up. And that someone is: your husband.

He comes home from work one day and says, guess what, we’ve sold the house, and your first thought is: Damn realtor, why didn’t he call me instead? Why does the husband get to know before anyone else? Your second thought is: Yay—I don’t have to clean the bathroom for potential buyers every day anymore! That is your favorite thought.

Next thing you know, your life is a swirl of newspaper and cardboard boxes and bubble wrap and searching recycle bins outside of Starbucks for oversized boxes.  You score some good ones this way, ones that might even hold a small child or two. You pack and you wrap and you tape and you bubble and you order Domino’s (again) and you subsist on burnt cheese pizza and Chinese take-out.

And the kids? What kids? The television has become their new BFF, and when you call all the utility companies to suspend service, this is the last phone call you make: to the TV company. You politely ask the customer service rep on the phone if you can keep your cable going right up until the verylastsecond, and she laughs—a cheerful laugh (she’s heard it all before). And she says, “No problem,” and she seems like she is typing it in somewhere, somewhere important like the computer base, and before she gets off the phone you ask her what her name is and she says “Chantel.” Or something Chantel-like, maybe Channel or Charel, it’s a modern name, trendy, and definitely a sincere and helpful-sounding name.

So. Your life is in boxes. Your husband decides that it would save a lot of money to move everything into the storage facility yourselves. This is the moment where you are questioning your initial judgment in making a lifetime commitment to this man. But it is too late for that. Now you are wearing sweats and lifting objects three times your body weight, objects like queen-sized bed frames and antique dining-room tables. You are beginning to hate your dining-room table, and in fact, you seriously consider leaving it for the new owners or perhaps on the street corner. When your husband reminds you that dining-room tables are expensive and that you will “just have to buy a new one anyway” you attempt (weakly) to convince him that a folding card table is as good (if not better) than your old table. He sighs, and looks away.

You start searching for a temporary apartment for your family because the house you bid on has some “issues,” namely scary mold, that need to be addressed before occupancy is even an option. Plus your closing date keeps getting pushed back, and for a split second you wonder what this would have been like with your baby due dates:

Scene 1:  A doctor's office, day time

Doctor:  Ma’am, I know I initially told you December 10th, but honestly, it looks like you’re going to have to carry that baby a little bit longer than we anticipated … how about we adjust that due date to, say, February 19th? Is that doable for you?

You are snapped back to reality when your husband comes across a newspaper listing you left out for rental apartments (there is a post-it note you’ve stuck on there that reads: “Pool use included!”) and he tells you the bad news: you and he and the kids and the cat are all moving in with his parents.

Just for a month. Or two. Three at the most. Promise. Just until the mold/ loan/ dining-room table thing is all cleared up, four months tops.

You struggle for two hours on Thanksgiving to get along with your in-laws, so what the heck is two months going to be like? You do the only thing you can in this tense moment of stress and denial and angst: you run right out to get some much-needed help and moral support.

You drive there quickly, your car knows the way, your tire marks are probably permanently etched into the asphalt. You pull up and get the best parking spot, the one right next to the handicapped and near the door. You enter Target, your kryptonite, your Mecca, and you try to blink back tears—but it’s no use. You are searching, seeking out your happy place, and there it is: the magazine aisle. You start grabbing shelter magazines, like a deranged victim of an undecorated desert island. First Elle Décor, then House Beautiful, next Architectural Digest, and pretty soon you’re grabbing anything, even Dwell or Better Homes and Gardens. You are balancing a large slippy stack in your left arm, and you are lamenting the fact that you didn’t get a cart.

Your mind wanders and you start fantasizing for a moment about the selection of chocolates Target has by the check-out lane. Yes, you reassure yourself, KitKat bars are usually on the top shelf next to the batteries.

You are heading toward the main check-out area, arm collapsing from the weight of the multitude of design Bibles (you will soon know how to decorate that moldy house with the fold-up poker table in the dining room, dammit), and that’s when you spot it flashing your name in neon letters, like a welcoming beacon:  the wine aisle.

Since when does Target carry wine? You loved Target before, you have always been loyal and would never cheat on Target, and this has merely cemented your viewpoint: ah, yes, Target IS your kryptonite.

("Moving Or Vacationing?")

387. Cartoon Skills

So you are driving three small boys to the library. Your older son brings up a topic that he’s apparently been obsessing about: cartoon skills. As in, “If you could choose any cartoon skill, what would it be?”

Thrilled to be part of the conversation for a change, you hastily blurt out, “Drawing! My skill is cartoon drawing!”

Confused, your older son queries, “What are you talking about, Mom?”

“What are you talking about?” you throw right back at him.

“Drawing is not a cartoon skill!”

Just then, your younger son’s friend (who obviously understands what cartoon skills are) says, “My skill would be being invisible.”

Older son likes this answer. “Yes, that’s what I meant,” he confirms, “something like that.”

Younger son does not want to be left out: “I would like to fly.”

Even though it has taken longer than you are actually proud to admit, you now “get” the concept of cartoon skills too. You innocently ask, “May I choose more than one?”

Older son considers this request. “Yes.”

Now you will earn back their respect. “I would choose to fly AND I would choose to not be hurt in any way after being shot at or falling off the top of a building.”

You hear a small wave of murmured approval. “Oh, good one.” This is not a skill they saw coming.

Older son offers his perfect cocktail of cartoon skills: “I would be able to fly AND shoot fire or ice out of my hands.”

Your younger son definitely likes this novel idea. “I want to shoot fire and ice out of my hands!” he mimics excitedly.

Now the friend decides to amend his previously supplied skill. “Actually, my power would be ezaporation.” He smiles in your rearview mirror, pleased with his new improved answer.

Your older son scoffs. “There is no such thing as ezaporation! That isn’t even a word!”

“Of course there is,” corrects the friend, “it is like evaporation, but instead of water rising up, I can ZAP people up! and they won’t even know it’s me who did it!”

You sense a future criminal in your midst.

Your mind wanders and you conjure up all sorts of fabulous cartoon skills: being invisible, flying, time traveling … maybe there could be a practical twist on these powers? How about an “I Dream of Jeannie” version: blink, and the laundry is done! blink, and your hair is done and your outfit is new! blink, and you are in Tahiti!

You laugh out loud at the idea, and then you realize: Spiderman’s got nothing on Barbara Eden.

("Meet Original Virgo")

386. The Time Traveler

So last night, courtesy of Netflix and their uber-speedy delivery system, The Husband and I curled up and enjoyed the movie “The Time Traveler’s Wife” starring Rachel McAdams. It was a really good movie (albeit it a sad one), and it got me thinking: what if I was a Time Traveler? I’m pretty sure I would avoid seventh grade, but other than that, where would I go?

Surprisingly, I would zip back to the time my children were teeny tiny babies. The reason this is surprising: babies are a lot of work. But now that I have lived through it with two babies, I know that phase is only temporary, so I would love to squeeze their tiny toes, see their toothless grins, and smooth their baby chick-fluff hair once again.

I would go back to the evening I met The Husband for the first time, not because it was the most romantic meeting or anything saccharine like that: no. I would go back so I had a chance to wash my hair and dry it instead of having a frizzy mess for that first impression.

I would revisit The Great Wall of China, not because I met The Husband there or because Tall and Short were tiny babies there, but just because: WOW—The Great Wall of China! How cool is that! I went during high school for a family vacation, and have not had the opportunity to go back since, so time travel would fix that.

Another happy vacation memory: Switzerland. My mom took us one Christmas when I was growing up. It was all snow and castles and trains and strudel and sledding and skiing and postcards come to life. Who doesn’t like Switzerland? (People who hate chocolate, that’s who.)

Maybe I would fix a few mistakes along the way. The moment that large truck swerved in front of me on the highway and a giant rock flipped out of his storage area and smashed the windshield of my new car? Perhaps Time Traveler MOV would’ve recommended I linger at Starbucks for a second or third latte that morning. How about the time Short and I went for a walk and he tripped on the cement sidewalk and broke his collarbone? Hey, watching TV never caused any broken bones, so we could’ve stayed home and watched cartoons in our safe cocoon instead of “getting some fresh air” and “healthy exercise.” Ha—healthy exercise is overrated!

One clever thing the movie’s central character does is buy a lottery ticket. Yes, that would be a tempting idea, and one I confess I would do too. If you know the correct numbers ahead of time, why not?

Time Traveler MOV would hit all the milestones: graduations, weddings, babies’ first steps. However, the foodie in me is embarrassed to admit I would revisit a couple choice food experiences: the ideal pesto fettuccine in Florence, Italy; the strawberry milkshakes my grandmother used to make; scones and clotted cream in London; eggs Benedict from my favorite café in San Diego; any cake I’ve ever eaten to celebrate any occasion.

Ah, yes: Time Traveler MOV has put on a few pounds. But that’s okay, so have I.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

380. The 5 Stages

I have noticed an amusing trend: when I dole out some sort of punishment for whatever latest infraction my seven-year-old has committed, he bounces around like a ping-pong ball through the 5 Stages of Grief.

First is Denial. “I didn’t hit him!” he cries out, indignant.

Once I inform him that I saw the whole thing, the next stage sets in: Anger/ Resentment. “Well, he started it!”

“It doesn’t matter,” I reply calmly, having been through this a few million times before, “I am taking away his Pokemon cards, and you have lost your computer time.”

Abruptly, we switch to Bargaining. “Mom, I promise I will never hit him again, if I can just have my half hour of computer time back. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeze?”


Once that little plea has been rebuffed, we maneuver on over to Depression. “All my friends get to play on the computer! Waaaaaaaaaaaah!” Then I hear a door slam. He is off to mope by himself.

A few minutes later, eyes red and puffy, he reappears. I’m hoping we have reached the final stage: Acceptance. “Okay, Mom. Can we go to the library later? I want to get a couple new books to read, since I can’t play on the computer today.”

Then, in a warped form of postponed retaliation, the four-year-old hits him. And we start the cycle all over again.

(“Monitor Of Vindication”)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

374. Motherhood is Un

Unacceptable, unintentional, uninspiring, unfashionable. This is not the vocabulary of a childless single person. But these are the letters that spell mommy.

My life is a swirl of things left undone. Time eludes me as I attempt to accomplish everything on my unglamorous and unrelenting “To Do” list. Items remain unwritten because the same nagging task will still be there tomorrow, and the day after that, and (who are we kidding?) until next September.

Unmade beds, unwashed dishes, undone laundry, unclean bathrooms—for starters. My house will, unfortunately, never be mistaken for an advertisement for Comet or Windex (unless it is the cringe-inducing “Before” photo). Our front entry is littered with unopened mail and unreturned library books. As I type this, unanswered emails flash at me, begging for attention. I trip over un-put-away toys when I walk to the bathroom to look in the unpolished mirror. I try to assess exactly how bad my un-showered self looks (with un-brushed hair, natch). Bad. Un-good.

I go around the house, doing the necessary chores and pretending that the house won’t morph back into this unkempt, unruly state in approximately 24 hours. I’m making unprecedented strides and the house is reacting uncertainly to my unleashed zeal (I overhear the kitchen door mumble to the stove, “I don’t understand; this is so unusual … has she come unglued?”). And the bonus of the unexpected: I’m no longer unhappy, because my uncontainable enthusiasm is undeniable!

Just now, my freighbor brings Tall and Short home from a playdate. Both boys simultaneously lean in toward me to give a big bear hug, almost tipping me over.

Ah, my favorite “un.” Unconditional love.