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”)

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.


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.


Friday, May 13, 2011

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”)

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.”


Thursday, May 5, 2011

400. It's A Wrap!

So the Boss approached me at work last night and said, “MOV, I need to hire an extra person for a couple days to do gift-wrapping for Mother’s Day. They would get a 40% discount during that time frame. Do you know anyone who might be interested?” I immediately thought of four or five moms that I know that might like to do it. But then I asked the Boss which days exactly she needed filled and it turned out that I, myself, was available.

“Oh, Boss, you don’t have to hire a new person, because I could do it!” I offered excitedly.

She looked me in the eye with a serious expression, and then a smile crept slowly across her face. Finally, she burst out laughing like that was the funniest joke she’d ever heard.

“Wrap!” (ha ha ha ha) “I said gift-wrap!” (ha ha ha ha) “You know, with wrapping paper!” she managed to blurt out between bouts of more laughter.

I was laughing too, just in case I might be about to be fired. “I know! I know what wrapping is!”

She stopped laughing. “Oh, MOV, you are a very good salesperson, you could sell an espresso machine to someone who doesn’t even like coffee … but wrap? That is, uh, that is one of your areas of, uh, potential opportunity for improvement.” This last part sounded suspiciously like that course all the regional managers were just required to take last month: “Encouraging The Best From Your Worst Employees.”

“What are you talking about?” I queried, “I am a fabulous gift-wrapper! You said yourself that you used some of my wrapped boxes as samples for the Christmas seasonal new hires!”

“Samples of what NOT to do!” The gloves were off.

I had to admit that maybe she was right. Oh, sure, I could use the heat-gun to shrink wrap a gift basket full of soap or scones, and I could certainly put some tissue paper on the top of a small shopping bag to make it look like a “gift” bag, and I even knew how to tie a pretty decent bow; but wrap?

“This new person,” said the Boss, maneuvering the subject back where she wanted it, “they can’t do crushed corners.”

Crushed corners?” I asked, confused.

“Crushed. Corners. Like yours.” She was not backing down. She was the Boss, and she was right.

I didn’t honestly know that she had ever inspected my corners to see if they were crushed or not. What was she, a military sergeant? The Gift Wrap Nazi, like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld?

“Boss, about my corners …” my college degree was drifting away before my eyes. Bye, bye, Art History! Seeya, Advanced Calculus! Won’t be needing you, French 301! All I needed to be successful in my chosen career at the high-end kitchen store were flat corners.

“So you finally acknowledge that your corners, uh, leave something to be desired?” The Boss nodded at me, as if her nodding would make me subliminally agree to her somewhat accurate assessment of my sad wrapping skills.

“Well, how do you get yours so perfect?” I challenged.  “Every time I try, the wrapping paper rips. And I know it is good quality wrapping paper, not flimsy. But then I have to start over. I swear, I pull the paper very tight, then smooth it, but I just can’t seem to win.”

“Is that the issue?” she asked, “Oh, it is all making sense to me now! All those times you offered customers the plain green box with the plain green ribbon and no actual wrapping paper, I thought you were being environmentally aware, but really, you were just avoiding crushed corners!”

“Ripped corners, in my case,” I corrected, digging my own grave.

“So, like I was saying, if you send one of your friends in here, she’s going to have to audition.” The Boss’s eyes glazed over, and I could tell she was envisioning one of my friends wrapping a gift while she held a stop-watch and yelled, “GO!”

“Audition?!? Are you crazy?” (it was dawning on me that calling the Boss crazy might not have been a smart thing) “No one is going to audition to be a 3-day gift wrapper!”

Right then, a young woman wearing a beautifully wrapped scarf around her neck walked up to the counter with a cookbook she wanted to buy.

“Excuse me, do you gift wrap?” she asked sweetly.

No!” The Boss and I said in unison. “But we can give you free wrapping paper.”