Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"She Ought to Be in Pictures"

Nine years ago, a piece of my heart started to live outside of my body. Or, as my pal Pammy puts it, "Having children is like being held hostage by the world; you'll do anything the universe demands to assure their safe passage."

Girl slides safely out of my passage.

In her first year of life, she slept in her own vomit on New Year's Eve (more killer parenting tips available soon in the paperback release of my book If Baby Is Still Breathing in the Morning, Then You ARE a Good Mommy, No Matter What Social Services Tries to Report), which burned the skin off her cheek...

...perhaps as payback for her having screamed for eight hours one night at a campsite in Yellowstone Park. That night, at 3 a.m., Groom finally bundled her into the car and drove her around the park for several hours until they both conked out at a scenic overlook. To this day, the words "Norris Geyser Basin" are synonymous in our household with "that could not possibly have sucked more."

A year later, she was heading towards two:

Pigtails kept the hair out of her raging double ear infection. And after three nights of no sleep for anyone, we ripped those ruby slippers off her feet and stuffed them right up the Tin Man's rusty, er, tailpipe.


Then she was two:

The transformative event of her life happened, and her vocation--no, not playing slots at the casino--was discovered. The arrival of Baby Brother Paco/Niblet gave her a purpose. She continues to serve as ballast to his tipsy keel.

After she hit three:

Part imp, part back rest, she twirled and cavorted, sold us plastic food at her grocery store, changed outfits 17 times a day, and slept through the night for the first time.


As a four-year-old:

Under threat of, "Either hold still and let me brush your hair, or we'll snip it into a no-maintenance pixie cut," she announced, "I think we should cut it, then, because I don't have holding still in me."

Life's greatest privilege remained propping up her best buddy.

...unless Lawrence Welk was on, and there was polka-ing to be done. Then, as she jumped up to dance, he could fall with a thud, for all she cared.

When she was five:

Her demonstrative love interferred with mealtime...

...while her solidity propped up the very trees.

She was six, and:

She built a town in Canada...

and crept up to "boo" her harem of one.

Amazingly, suddenly she was seven:

And she was all courage,

and capability,

and unflappable serenity.

Next came eight:

a year of honing balance,

making static dynamic,

and mastering the absorbed arpeggio.

And now she is nine:

...the embodiment of lovely.

What's more:

The baby who didn't sleep is now a girl who checks her alarm clock through the night, lest she miss her bus.

The toddler with an ear infection swims laps, makes assists on the soccer field, monkeys around the jungle gym, and jumps rope backwards.

The delighted two-year-old who held an infant brother now chooses his clothes and gets him dressed before leaning to me and whispering conspiratorially, "He's in a bit of a mood, isn't he?"

The wee elf of twirling and clothes changes now monologues, "I'm not so much of a fashion girl--not that liking fashion is bad; I just don't care if my clothes match." A breath later, she asks if we can go shopping for ballet flats and notes that if Paco wants some, too, he should get some, perhaps a shiny, metallic pair.

The pixie-ish preschooler treasures long tresses and insists, "I read in an American Girl book that a 'sleeping braid' will keep the knots out."

The solid, loving kindergartener still carries her brother from room to room and brings him bandaids. At school, her teacher chose her from the class for the Citizenship award while we all marvel that she jotted down "misspell" correctly on her weekly pretest, when no one else did.

The first grader who built and crept now studies maps of Stonybrook, Connecticut, the fictional town of the Babysitter's Club series, quizzing me nightly on which is Mallory's house. She no longer scares anyone--unless it's 7 p.m. on a Monday, and she's just home from Girl Scouts and has four pages of homework but would rather do somersaults in the living room. Her mood teeters on a ledge, and Kleenex may be needed.

The courageous, capable, unflappable seven-year-old continues to impress. I am ageing easily, knowing that she will one day be handling my estate and shunting me into the best of homes. What's more, I feel certain she will bring me ham for dinner on Sundays, if her career as an Event Organizer doesn't offer a conflict that week.

At eight, she had found her center but tipped occasionally towards goofy and abstracted. Indeed, we still have to ask her, when she gets the giggles, if she needs to hit the bathroom, lest she require a change of underwear. Her reading habit continues to demand feeding, which is a delight--and, surprisingly, a despair, as she sometimes leaves her best playmate craving the sister who used to entertain him for hours. Mournfully, he will call out her nickname, "DeeDee, don't you want to play Animal School?" to which she'll respond, only half listening, "After I'm done with this book."

Ultimately, all of this means that she is more and more a whole unto herself--a distinct thread in the family fabric rather than an indistiguishable part of the larger weaving.

At times, this can feel like a loss, as though already we are experiencing an unraveling.

Mostly, though, her increased demarcation allows me to see her better; were she completely enmeshed, I would ascribe to her my own traits and view her as sharing my color and texture, missing so much that is uniquely her and not me:

her vividness
her poise
her confidence
her sound judgment
her certainty

her purity of soul


Thus, I live with a piece of my heart--nine years old now--next to me, not in me,

and I cannot fully express how blessed I feel to release her into the world.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"I Have Called Upon Your Goodwill and Patience Frequently In the Past, But Never Moreso Than Now, When I Have a New Toy"

I woke up on my birthday last week and was gifted with a digital video camera, already loaded with this message:

Don't worry. Groom knows he is the whitest boy on the planet when it comes to carrying a tune and/or dancing. Since he excels at all else, it is only fair that he be fallible. Note, however, how well he plays up his deficiency, hammering out and sustaining even the sharpest note. That, in itself, is a talent (kind of like how Rush Limbaugh pretends, through sheer bravado, that he has a brain).

Later that day, Niblet began establishing his relationship with the camera and asked to film me:

There's a strange light from the window behind in this clip, but let's pretend it's the angel what lives inside me, coming out for a wink. And aren't we all wondering, based on this rendition, what kind of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" I could coo out for Obama, thus tapping into the subtext of our years-long torrid affair? (not that such a thing would ever happen because His Nibs is much too smart and genuine to ever take for granted the peach that is Michelle, and if he did, I would have to gauge out my eyes with a flagpole, what with every last belief having been rattled).

Shortly thereafter, PacoTacoHaco/Niblet wanted to try out the song himself, standing next to one of his creature creations, a guy named "Eye-o":

Even better, in the intervening days, Niblet has taken over the camera and started staging stop-motion Lego films:

Sure, he's six, so he has little patience for the multiple incremental movements a longer film would require, but it's still a really cool start to his future career, when he will join the Wallace & Gromit production team. Until then, he'll live in our basement and have seriously pasty skin.

During the years of pasty skin and basement dwelling, I'll take him a platter of pancakes every night--to keep his cinematic energies from flagging--and once a year, on his birthday, I'll put a candle in the stack of pancakes and sing him that damn song.

Rolling his eyes, he'll mentally storyboard a stop-action video in which his mother is decapitated by a light saber.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"I Live in Zoo. Word On the Streets Is That I Smell Like a Monkey. Even More Tragically, I Look Like One, Too"

Wednesday was my birthday. The cool thing about my announcing this today is that now you aren't compelled to chime in with a “Happy birthday!” You’re off the hook, toots.

Because it was yesterday!
And now it's over!!
So nothing you can say or think can change how it was!!!
C'est fini!!!!
Keep your kind felicitations tucked in your handbag!!!!!
Haha on you!!!!!!!

Luckily, even without your lovely words, I enjoyed a really nice day. Having a family that treated me all special-like made that happen. Were it just me, alone, the day would have been one of gorging on donuts followed by lolling my head into the bottom of an empty bottle of Mad Dog 20/20.

Which, come to think of it, is a valid celebration in its own right. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, however, went:

7:27 a.m. The sound of running feet. On top of the feet were the bodies of my kids, who zoomed into the bedroom and pulled a "lazy bag" (some of y'all might call it a "gift bag") out from under the bed. In it were two scarves they had finger-knitted, kind of long, loose snaky things that can keep my throat warm in -20 degree weather or, better yet, tie the kids to the banister if they lip off. Wildly tangled in the scarves was a new Webkinz, which is just what a 42-year-old needs if her Webkinz account is about to expire, and she really just wants to decorate her pet's room (aka "Manhattan walk-up") and play a lot of Cash Cow 2 in the wee hours. They gave me a manatee whom I have named “Sassafrass.” I was certain the hugely-cautious Webkinz site, which won’t even let a user name a pet “Buttercup” because it contains the word “butt” in it, would certainly put the kibosh on “Sassafrass” due to its double assage. But whaddya know? Sassafrass passed muster. Since he’s a manatee, he was given an underwater room in Webkinz world, so come to think of it, I’ll be decorating not so much a Manhattan walk-up as a New Orleans row house.

Also in the lazy bag was—smash some cymbals together here, if you keep a pair next to your keyboard—a digital video camera, which I’d been craving so that I could carry it around my life, capturing random moments like when I’m driving (and filming) and hit a pothole. Then, once I download and upload and post it all on my blog, people far and wide can hear me swear and feel the jolt, and if that’s not good Internet entertainment, I don’t know what is. Of course, there’s the small matter of the learning curve before I can get anything online, but the prospect in itself makes me want to cuss a bit with excitement and lurch about with joy, all pothole-hitting-like.

8:05 a.m. Kids get on the schoolbus and head off to school. Day gets even better.

11:11 a.m. Finish lifting weights, doing 100 crunches, running a challenging 5K, biking 11K and finally doing a high-intensity 10 minutes on the stairmaster. Take all this physical fitness as a clear sign that I will live to 90 and still be trail running, albeit at a 45 min/mile pace.

11:12 a.m. Notice a twinge in my hip. Feel certain I’m dying.

12:32 p.m. Put pans of molasses cookies in the oven.

12:44 p.m. Wave newspaper wildly under the smoke detector to get it to stop bleating.

2:00 p.m. Feed molasses cookies to my colleagues at an English department meeting. Listen to discussion of outcomes and visiting speakers and textbooks and wonder when I stopped caring.

2:01 p.m. Admit I’ve never cared about anything when there are cookies in the room.

3:45 p.m. Drop Niblet at his Mandarin Chinese class. Yell “Ni Hao!” obnoxiously loudly at him as he exits the car.

3:59 p.m. Drop Groom at auto shop to pick up mini-van, which, lo and behold, no longer sounds like Ethel Merman with a belt tightened around her larynx.

4:04 p.m. Take Girl to nearby coffee shop to use freebie “birthday” coupon for my favorite drink: a Turtle Mocha, which contains approximately 700 calories.

4:05 p.m. Gain 8 pounds.

4:20 p.m. Neighbor lady and her daughter join us in coffee shop hanging out. Neighbor lady bestows gift card for said coffee shop, urging me to buy more and more and more Turtle Mochas.

4:21 p.m. Gain 6 more pounds, just from the urging.

5:12 p.m. Get home to discover best pal from college has sent box of gifties. Lay them all out on floor and roll around on top of them until Groom announces, “Okay, now that’s getting kind of creepy.”

6:01 p.m. Prepare to eat steak dinner. First, wave newspaper around wildly under smoke detector to get it to stop bleating.

6:28 p.m. Wipe steak juice off chin with hand. Hope, as an adult one day, to start using a napkin.

6:35 p.m. Welcome neighbors (with 3-year-old and newborn baby) as they come over to share cake.

6:37 p.m.-6:46 p.m. Play seventeen different games with 3-year-old. Hold baby.

7:14 p.m. Hold baby more. Consider this one of the day’s best presents.

8:01 p.m. Peel sleeping baby off lap and send him home with parents. Consider that, too, one of the day’s best presents.

9:00 p.m. Tuck in kids, who sleep these days in the master bedroom, due to water damage and resultant smell in their bedroom allowed by careless roofing crew. Swear a little at roofing crew. Remember, next time, to record the swear on the new digital video camera.

9:10 p.m. Sit down with glass of wine and Stephen Colbert to watch with Groomeo.

9:11 p.m. Pretend not to hear Niblet crying upstairs because everything is scary, even with 4 night lights on, music playing, and wiry sister nearby.

9:14 p.m. Let Groom go upstairs to hear about the terrifying cobweb hanging from the ceiling, amidst other real and imagined horrors. While he’s gone, log-on to Webkinz World and adopt manatee. Put a toilet in manatee’s underwater bedroom. Chuckle because somehow, that’s just funny. Then put a cactus next to the toilet. Chuckle more.

9:42 p.m. Feel kind of bad when Groom continues to struggle with overwrought child. Then remember the toilet in the underwater Webkinz room; chuckle silently but, heading upstairs to join the fray, act concerned, outwardly. Suggest Niblet’s frightened brain watch some Loony Tunes for a bit.

9:54 p.m. Niblet done with Loony Tunes and wants to sleep. But because there are so many tewwwible and awwwwful things in the world that he is not able to name or describe, he cannot. Just cannot.

10:01 p.m. Crawl into bed with Niblet and tell him the weight of my arm on his body will protect him from all monsters and marauders. Marvel as his body relaxes and breathing slows. Realize I’ll never again have power such as this and that he may be a bit of a foolchild if he genuinely thinks my arm could ever take on a three-eyed monster holding a bloody spear. Let him sleep nevertheless.

10:25 p.m. Rejoin Groom for more wine and a little Stephen Colbert (not a euphemism; we really watched the show, you big Naught Pants). Eat rest of birthday cake.

10:26 p.m. Gain three pounds.

11:00 p.m. Kiss Groom goodnight. Log into online classes. Grade research proposals. Brace self for forthcoming papers about the HPV vaccine, excessive advertising, and eating disorders.

11:01 p.m. Gain pound from thinking about eating disorders.

12:00 a.m. Read a few pages of White Heat, the book about Emily Dickinson and Thomas Higginson and their literary relationship. Admit Dickinson was one hell of a crazy bit of brilliance—especially because—she used—dashes—all the time—to such great effect—to the point—that sometimes—I don’t even—know—what she—means. Read part of a letter she wrote to Higginson and find self swearing under breath about how incisive dash use can be.

12:01 a.m. Note that birthday is over and that the next time I read Dickinson, I should have the new video camera running, just to catch the random swears—for future—uploading—onto—the Interwebs.

12:02 a.m. Place icy feet onto Groom’s legs and leech off his warmth.

12:03 a.m. Think that it doesn’t get better than this.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Game Over"

Girl stands next to the kitchen table, her Tales of Famous Americans book open next to her, and grins widely as she reads aloud, "Martin Luther King loved learning new words. M.L. exclaimed, 'When I grow up, I'm going to get me some big words.'"

While Girl gets a kick out of this statement, Niblet isn't so sure. Wondering, he asks, "What does that mean?"

Clicking my brain to The Mommy Channel, I explain, "Basically, it means Martin Luther King understood that having a good vocabulary and knowing when and how to use words could help him out in life. If you know smart words and aren't afraid of them, it's kind of like, um, if you're playing a video game, and your character runs across a brick of gold, and then his power meter gets a boost of 100 points."

Sensing that he might be watching a show called "Mommy Bullsh**" on The Mommy Channel, Niblet gives me his patented, "Yea, wwwwight."

"No, really, Paco. If you have good words as your weapons, it's like your character gets seven extra lives."

Not even pretending to buy my "aimed-at-the-six-year-old" explanation, Niblet gives me the stink eye.

In return, I concede, "Okay, no more dumb video game analogies. The point really is just that language can give you power. In your life, if you can learn and know lots of words, you'll have an advantage. Like, if you know the word 'verisimilitude' instead of 'truth,' you could change your life. You could write something or say something that people will remember forever. Or you could get a really cool job and travel to amazing places if you have strong words propelling you. There's no end to what you can do if you take words and make them work for you. For example, if people are ever mean to you, you can use language to settle the score. Language is better than a sword!"

Incredulous at such logic, when clearly nothing could ever be more awesome and badical than a sword, Niblet rolls, "Yea, wwwwight, Mom. Like 'verismachiepoop' is a word people use. Verisasupercalliemapooper!"

With this, he turns his attention out the window to the roofers balancing atop our garage, scraping away the slush as they use a nail gun to attach new shingles.

"I like those guys," he says. "They're doing the job without words."

True, dat--imatudiepooper.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in a Bitchslap Fight Outside the Bar When That Skank Burned My Wrist with Her Cigarette"

Remember that precious Robert Fulghum book from a few years back--the one where he listed all the things he learned in kindergarten and then showed how they had carried him in good stead throughout life? In a folksy and fuzzy approach, he made millions by writing nonsense like "Play fair" and "Share everything" and "...no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together."

Is this the right spot for a group vomit? If so, bend over with me now and make a big heave.

And you know how that smarmy Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, puts out the "art" version of Fulghum's kind of packaged, insulting nothingness--stuff that's aimed firmly at any unthinking plebe with a Mastercard?

And you know how both men deserve to have their nostril hairs plucked out, slowly and painfully, by a the beak of a drunken hummingbird who keeps missing their nostrils and instead just pokes their eyes out?

Yea, like that. I resent their particular kind of mass-marketed crap in an eye-poking-outish-by-small-birdie fashion. I also kind of want to dismantle Pinocchio there and whack both guys in the testes with the wooden legs.

Thus, you can imagine my dismay when, recently (as I was carving Kinkade a third buttock out of Pinocchio's femur), I realized I had to give Fulghum, at least, some cred. His premise might have merit after all.

See, I live with a kindergartener. Watching him move throughout his days has, in fact, taught me a handful of life lessons:

Always leave an eye slit. Even if you have a pair of pantyhose over your head or are working the door at a speakeasy, clear vision is key to a life out of the hoosegow.

Have other people do the work while you take a rest. Construct the situation so the workers are enthusiastic about breaking a sweat while you garner all the glory. For more, see: Coldplay vs. Joe Satriani.

Drink with gusto and little discernment. Even if you're catching drips straight out of the gutter, don't be proud.

Learn to hide. Be sneaky.

So, okay. I'll back off Fulghum, to a certain extent, and will only bop lamely at his kneecaps with Pinocchio's dismembered head for a few minutes.

Kinkade, however, is getting a wooden tibia right up the pooper.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Take Heed 'Cause I'm a Lyrical Poet"

In the world of education, the last couple of decades have focused on buzzwords like “collaboration” and “group work” and “experiential learning.”

Of course, that means my kids’ curricula at the local music magnet school—where, according to promotional materials, every aspect of the school day is “infused with music”—are largely based around work sheets and spelling tests.

Although it would be easy to fault teachers for the lack of creativity, I can’t. From what I’ve seen, public school teachers are to be admired for getting out of bed in the morning, even more for retaining remnants of passion for kids, this despite the fact that their rooms are stuffed full of 34 wriggling bodies; that many of those bodies might not have had enough food or sleep or intelligent input in their lives; that their best hours are often focused on teaching children to use No. 2 pencils to fill in bubbles, lest a single child be left behind; that they must adjust to amazing new curricula every single year, rarely getting the opportunity to refine something they’ve already tried out; that they are expected to sit on committees and wade through politics during the hours they might be working with students or realizing cool new classroom projects like building a mass spectrometer out of empty paper towel tubes and Hubba Bubba.

As my sister, a teacher of some twenty years (and who, one year, spent $4,000 of her own salary purchasing classroom materials), notes, “If my job were just about being with the kids and interacting with the parents, instead of all the other added-on junk, it’d be easier to like.”

Fortunately, teachers are able to compartmentalize the crap and do try to break up the monotony of fill-in-the-blank learning. Every now and then, they get to work in more dynamic ideas. Or, okay, more realistically, they work in ideas that don’t involve circling a), b), or c). And we’ll call that dynamic.

For example, Girl’s third grade class occasionally has the opportunity to take its worksheet-based curriculum to the next level and do the type of training that will ready them, one day, to become corporate drones.

Yup. They get to do Power Point presentations.

Upping that thrill, they recently got to choose their own topics and compile a “How To” presentation on any subject that thrills them, that they think their classmates need to know about, that they feel is complex enough that it needs breaking down into its specific steps.

Naturally, then, Girl, whom I’ve pegged as a future Human Resources Director, chose to do hers on “How To Make Ice.”

Several demonstrated how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Three did theirs on how to snowboard.

Poor, beleaguered Ms. D must have thrown her worn-down pumps (yet, strangely, they feel like sneakers) into the air the day one girl went through the steps of how to construct a bed for a paper doll.

The other part of the learning equation, the parents, played into these presentations, as well. When Girl came home and reported proudly what she’d chosen for her topic, Groom and I locked eyes and silently vowed not to demand, "And how exactly do you turn a two-step process into an entire Power Point slide show and speech??? HUH????????? What's more, look at how you haven't even started this thing, and already we're using multiple question marks to stress our bemusement, as though they strengthen our sense of disbelief and as though you can hear our punctuation! By the way, that last sentence ended with an exclamation point!!! And that one ended with three of them because we were really vehement!!!!!!!!!!"

Our restraint in the face of her underwhelming topic choice stemmed from a long-honored parental strategy called Stuffing a Sock In It. Matching her seriousness of purpose, we vowed to support her by providing all the water and trays she might need. Even more, we promised to move the vodka when the time came to freeze. In fact, with the freezer so full of test trays, it seemed best to clear out the vodka all together.


As the week went by, and Girl put together her Power Point at school, chipping away at the, er, ice, Groom and I would relax on the couch at night and remove the sock from our collective parental mouth.

"Do you think she could put in a slide entitled 'The Importance of Ice at the Bottom of a Tumbler Glass, Especially If It Contained Bailey's Irish Cream--Which, in Its Heavenly Way, Deposited Remnant Creaminess into the Cold Chips, a Creaminess Which Then Caused the Drinker to Crunch and Suck on the Cubes in a Way That No Third Grader Should Witness'?" I wondered aloud.

Continuing, I noted, "Do you think we should mention to her that diamonds are often called 'ice' and so maybe she should have a little section about blood diamond mining in Africa? If we make some calls on that special red telephone in the kitchen--you know, the one Stephen Spielberg stopped by and installed next to the toaster last year, to be used only in the case of a celebrity emergency--do you think we could get Leonardo di Caprio and Djimon Hounsou to stop by the elementary school while she's talking? They could do something with puppets, and hell if that wouldn't be worth extra credit."

At this point, Groom interjected, "What I'm worried about is that she'll get so focused on the whole 'freezing water' aspect that she'll forget to mention meth labs and how a very special kind of 'ice' gets to the streets. In a way, she'd be neglecting an entire population of drug addicts, and that could count against her when Ms. D does the final tallying."

Stifling a tiny burp, I concluded, "If Ms. D has the audacity to mark down an 8-year-old who's still getting up to speed with things like, well, speed, then we only have one option, right?

We'll have to ice her."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Underneath the Driver's Seat of the Mini-Van"

...roosts a treasure trove of random crap: gum wrappers, quarters I could've used for the meter, water bottles, Cheerios, plastic doohickies, tupperware containers of goldfish crackers, ex-boyfriends (now shriveled and woebegone, embodiments of life without me).

This post is just that: a heap of random crap that I can't be bothered to clean up. See it's my Spring Break week, which means my five remaining brain cells are off duty. They're in the Dominican Republic, lying on cabana chairs, sipping Trujillo Wallbangers, leaving behind only the shell that is my body.

Here's what my body has been occupied with this week:

1) Going on walks and hikes with Groomeo, which we can do since THE KIDS AREN'T ON SPRING BREAK THIS WEEK LIKE WE ARE. And that's the best invention ever. Three times now, Groom and I have completed sentences to each other in something resembling conversatin'. I even learned his middle name and that he reads the newspaper!

Speaking of Groomie, and typing about him feels like speaking about him since it all comes back to the voices in my head, he just had his final follow-up appointment after starring, against his will, in the reality show called Vasectomies Gone Wild. Since His Nibs had been advised not to do any impactful exercise until the swelling goes down--and since, almost seven weeks out, the swelling isn't entirely down (Sometimes we play a little coochicoo game where I scratch him behind his ears and ask in an overbearingly syrupy voice, "Who has a testicle the size of a chicken's egg? Who has a testicle the size of a chicken's egg?")--well, he hasn't been running and has missed that outlet dearly. Thank heavens he still has the drink.

At any rate, the urologist, who again complimented Groom on the "impressive" hematoma he brought into the ER back in January, says it will probably be another two months before the swelling finally abates (what better time than now for him to join the ballet and capitalize on those assets, I ask you?), if it does at all. Ever. As in, he also noted that the one chicken-egg testicle could stay that way permanently, dismissing it with a, "You might never hang the same way again." If that's the case, I think Groom should start walking with a cane--or maybe pushing parts of himself in a wheelbarrow--so that he can explain to everyone who inquires that he has to because he's so prodigiously hung.

On the one side.

In fact, in addition to us going for walks this week, we also went to yoga for the first time in eons, and His Groomishness actually couldn't do Cobra because of his crazy man hump.

This isn't Groom. It's a guy trying to find his missing contact lens. It just so happens he's using cobra pose to hoover the room as he searches.

2) During this Spring Break, my ears have been very busy listening to Gary Paulsen's HATCHET. As much as possible, we listen to books on CD whenever we're in the car, and I love that Niblet is old enough now that we can listen to YA fiction. Last month, we listened to MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, which I hadn't read since I was about 10. Now we've been listening to HATCHET, another tale of wilderness survival, and pretty much any time we get home, Paco and I end up sitting in the car for an extra ten minutes, just to hear more. I love hearing about a shivering 13-year-old boy who eats turtle eggs to stay alive, especially when I'm snug in a parka and heated car, my belly full of granola and yogurt.

3) My full belly has also been warm because I've recently tapped into the glory that is the sweater coat. Thinking that one had to be either tragically raggedy or extremely well-groomed to pull off such a garment, I've always avoided them. However, I grabbed one off the rack a few weeks ago, my attention snared by the 80% off price tag, and now I'm addicted. I went back to the store last week and dove into the clearance racks again, emerging, tousled and breathless, with two more in my arms. (Incidentally, doesn't this sound rather like some women in their quest for multiple babies in these modern times?)

Don't get me wrong. I don't necessarily think I'm rocking the sweater coat look. I haven't actually worn one in public. But in our 56 degree house, I am, for perhaps the first time in months, warm. I love my sweater coats so much that sometimes I lick them when no one's looking.

This isn't me. This is a mannequin trying to find its missing contact lens.

4) Because even a billowy sweater coat can't cover every sin (Hey, don't you want to start yowling "I Have a Coat Of Many Colors" from JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT right about here? Especially if you're singing it as though you're Donny Osmond when he starred in the touring production and was feeling a little bit Fabio but not even a little bit rock 'n roll?)

...so, yea, okay, since my sweater coats don't provide complete coverage, I'm using a food journal and actually tracking every bite that goes into my mouth. The point is to get a little bit more aware of the nutrional value of everything I'm eating so that I can shove myself towards better choices.

The truth is, though, that food journals should just be entitled PATHWAYS TO DEPRESSION because pretty much, you can eat 5 strawberries and 4 celery sticks and be at 1,500 calories. Food journals are high-glycemic suck on a rice cake.

5) This week off of work has also been devoted to lining up large expenditures. After many agonizing years, members of my family are just starting to get some of the inheritance money from my grandma and dad's estates. To say it's a long story would be like saying Paula Abdul has a little bit of a problem when it comes to picking outfits.

Clearly, Paula is missing both of her contact lenses and cannot see her reflection in the mirror.

At any rate, we are experiencing--gasp!!--an influx of some money, and so this week has been devoted to lining up roofers to replace the moss-covered shingles; to scouting out our first-ever non-hand-me-down couch (oooh, and also a chaise lounge, I hope, if we can make it fit...but then I'll need a smoking jacket, right? Then I'll need a pipe and some scotch and an ingenue to seduce and then and then and then...); to meeting with a design/build team about remodeling our kitchen. As it turns out, inheritances, like salaries and the love of a good man, never stretch as far as you'd hope.

This is not the chaise lounge we're considering. It's just a chaise lounge that's looking for its missing monocle.

6) Instead of staring at students and online classes this week, my eyes have been peering into lightweight fiction, the kind that doesn't require my five vacationing brain cells. Specifically, I read OUT-TAKES FROM A MARRIAGE by Ann Leary, and it was only when I was halfway through that I suddenly realized Ann Leary is the wife of Denis Leary, comedian and star of tv's firefighter drama RESCUE ME. Her contract with Random House is unrelated to that fact, I'm sure.

Just like Kevin Federline's rapping success wasn't at all dependent on his wife's clout. And how Matthew McConaughey's girlfriend is a really talented purse designer.

I've also been reading Candace Bushnell's new book, ONE FIFTH AVENUE, and have found myself taken aback that one of the characters in it is a young woman who moved to New York City because she loves SEX AND THE CITY and wants to be Carrie Bradshaw and, well, I kind of have to holler at Candace Bushnell, "Can you DO that? Can you write a book like SEX AND THE CITY and then, after it's a big success, write another book in which the characters are motivated by the iconic series you spawned? Really? You CAN?"

I dunno. But I am pretty sure that if even three of my brain cells come back from the DR alive, I'm going to have to lay off the chick lit.

7) Lastly, and certainly most attractively, I've been fighting off another flare up of the damn ringworm that has built a beach on one my hands. The patch is consistently there, but every three weeks or so, it gets bumps on it and becomes crazymaking itchy. So right now I'm trying everything at once: an anti-fungal cream, Head and Shoulders shampoo (the active ingredient of which fights off all kinds of tinea), and wild spritzes of fast-actin' Tinactin.

Crunk it, but nothing's helping.

The good news about living in Minnesota, though, is that any itch that plagues you during Spring Break is overshadowed by the lower back pain from shoveling.

Monday, March 09, 2009

"Death by Chinese: Only After the General Tsao's Chicken Has Welded Your Arteries Shut and, Spiraling to the Ground, You're Stabbed in an Artery by a Pair of Chopsticks"

The background to this story is so simple that I'm actually going to try to keep it that way.

I know.

But give a girl credit for good intentions.

Truth is, it's late, which means the tv screen is only broadcasting windchill temperatures for towns up by the Canadian border, so I need to go to bed or at least head upstairs and read because that'll mean my body will be a few feet further away from the boxes of Thin Mints, Thanks-a-Lotses, Carmel Delites, and Peanut Butter Patties that keep trying to leap into my mouth.

Here's what you need to know:

1) My six-year-old, Paco (his W-2 reads "Wee Niblet"), loves China and all things Chinese, especially that saucy minx, Madame Mao. Okay, also gongs and dragons. And maybe not so much Madame Mao. Like they even learn about her in kindergarten. With the size of today's classes and all the irrelevant No Child Left Behind standardized testing, they're lucky if they manage to get as far as Mussolini in their "Famous Mercurial World Leaders" unit by the end of the school year. Madame Mao has to wait for first grade. And for reincarnation. 'Cause she's dead. Pretty much, she'd be lucky to go to first grade, at this point.

2) Paco has a best friend, Tappy. Tappy is a real person although the pseudonym I've just made up for him here makes him sound like a pet woodpecker. But, really, Tappy exists. He, too, goes to kindergarten and actively knows nothing about Madame Mao.

3) Last week, I took Paco and Tappy (and all their many imaginary friends, including Paco's pal Surrpy) to see a noon-time concert in the cafeteria at my college. While the boys did make french fries dance on the table while we were there, the formal performance was, in fact, given by a troupe of Chinese musicians who play traditional instruments. At the start of the program, Surrpy rushed the stage. It got kind of ugly when the Hell's Angels security guards beat him down.

Gawd. He's only a toddler, and he's invisible.

Biker security is hardcore.

This is the Chinese group, playing at a different college the week before:

In a total random sidenote--and wasn't I doing so well with keeping things simple?--a little bit after the performance, the entire group of female musicians went into the bathroom to change out of their show clothes and into jeans and hoodies before they were treated to hamburgers in the cafeteria. As it turns out, I had to pee. When I opened the bathroom door and waded into all eight of them half-naked, it was incredibly unnerving to see all their heads swivel and have them call out, loudly and in unison, "HIIIIIIIII!" Fearing a group hug, I wanly gestured a sort of "howdeedoo-you-scare-me" and ducked into the nearest stall, where I contemplated the advantages and disadvantages of joining The People's Party upon my exit. Advantage: I could take off my shirt in public. Disadvantage: I'd be taking off my shirt in public. Bigger disadvantage: I'd be surrounded their pert "HIIIII"s which would emphasize the saggingness of my "howdeedoo"s.

Refocusing now on the main event:

Just at the concert's end, the college's hail-fellow-well-met history instructor, seeing me there with two kids still young enough to be dazzled that they were drinking pop, came over to our table to make nice and ask how the boys had liked the performance. Naturally, the lads sat and stared at him, frozen and mute, Sprite bottles locked to their lips.

As I do, I piped up. "Oh, they really enjoyed it. Both of these little guys really love China. Paco here even has announced he's going to live there when he grows up."

Continuing the nice, History Instructor asked of Tappy, "And how about you? Do you want to live there, also?"

Feeling the fizz of bubbles up his nose, Tappy did a strange grin/grimace as he responded, "I do, but only if they don't kill me."




Even I couldn't think of a quick load of crap to throw at my colleague to push us past that one. All I could come up with was, "Uh? What? You mean you want to live there before you die, Tappy?"

With a tiny burp, Tappy--whose family are devoted members of the Assemblies of God, as it turns out--carried on, "No, I mean that in China they point a rifle at your chest and ask you in a mean voice, 'DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST?' So they'd probably kill me. I think I'm just going to live in California."

And again with the awkward beat of bewildered silence.

Plus another, during which I resisted noting that while he has a point about human rights abuse, we could also--IF HE WEREN'T SIX--discuss the statistical likelihood of dying at the wrong end of a gun in the U.S., particularly in California. We'll let Madame Mao give that lecture next year, in first grade.

So, hmmmmmmm...

What to say to my stunned-looking fellow brain enlightener who, incidentally, has spent a career specializing in Chinese history, politics, and culture?

Gurgling, I managed to jerk my head towards Tappy and choke out an inane, "I think maybe it's the first time he's had Sprite."

Without another word, History Instructor fled to the haven of his office.

Not able to flee, exactly, what with being in charge of all kindergarteners Saved and Unsaved, I took the next best option and informed the boys that I had to go to the bathroom and they'd have to wait just outside.

In the bathroom, as you well know, I was faced with a brigade of Chinese who did, indeed, point their weapons directly at me.

Praise Jeebus, but it's a miracle I made it out alive.

Here are a couple minutes of the music ensemble playing that day in the cafeteria. Keep your eyes peeled for rifles and Surrpy.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

"If My Rack Doesn't Give Me a Black Eye, the Catholics Will"

The other day, Duluth was coated with six inches of new snow (I hate it when old snow falls--it's all crochety and hunchy, hollers at me me to get off its lawn, and wears black socks with sandals when it mows), which means my winter attitude has been reinvigorated. See, I only hate winter when I can't get out in it and have a proper romp. Now, the romp, accompanied by just a smidgeon of mischievous rumpus, has returned with gusto.

Indeed, since the town is soft again and not just a ginormous slab of ice covered by sleet covered by yellow ice covered by salt, I'm able to get out in it and ski and run on snowshoes, kind of like Robert Redford did down the side of a mountain when he portrayed Jeremiah Johnson in 1972, only I don't wear big old traditional snowshoes like he did, nor do I do it down the side of a mountain, nor am I as appealing as Redford, even though I'm getting kind of craggy around the eyes and appreciate independent films.

After the snow falls, so do the temperatures. Consequently, the other day when I was snowshoe running, it was about -17, which usually isn't a problem, since I am permanently wrapped in Nature's Insulation, aka an extra 20 pounds, which kind of makes me, in the Very Special Place that is My Brain, a super hero lady, one whose name in the mid-summer-release movie directed by Ridley Scott would be Calorie Queen (I'd blind the bad guys by pelting them with Jolly Ranchers and then restrain them with raised-donut handcuffs).

However, that particular day, even with supplemental poundage, my haunches just couldn't get warm. What's more, I couldn't feel my fingers. Thus, I was doing a tragic slogging thing where I would shake my hands down to the core of the earth really hard every, um, thirty seconds, lest I return home and have to ask my husband to amputate my pinkies with the electric knife. Which would entail us getting an electric knife. And that might be worse than amputation.

The good news, in the midst of my frozen shenanigans, was that I'd dressed reasonably. Gone are my days of wearing cotton socks and a saucy tank top--and little else--for snowshoe outings. Rather, I'm all about the wool and poly-syntheticacization and layering. On my torso alone, I sported three layers (plus one invisible mantle of evil). Earlier, at home, once I'd had all the clothes heaped in front of me, it still had taken me 22 minutes to get dressed. Had I a Mammy like Miz Scarlett, we could have whittled it to 16; if I'd had the poster of a bed to clutch, we might have taken it down to 15. Support staff or not, I had put thought and effort into my clothing.

Except, huh? Suddenly, not only was I uncomfortably chilly, I was starting to veer off course without meaning to. First right. Then left. Despite my eyes being focused straight ahead, I couldn't run a steady line. It was like all hell had broken loose on my body.

Oooooooooooh. Hmmm. Thinking. Considering possibilities.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Thinking is happening.

Wait a Jeremy Pivening moment, but it seemed someone had just undone my bra with whisper-fine fingers and the faint hope of an Emmy!

Wearing one of those front-closing zipper sports bras, with Mammy having neglected to lock down the zipper, I was experiencing boob vertigo. My head and body were all dizzy and powerless as they were directed by a compass beyond their ken.

Unfettered, the breasts were in charge.

Heady with the power, they charged me towards a stand of white pine. Then, changing tack, they whushed me towards the cliff overlooking the lake! What next? A round-off back-flip-flop, starring my nipples?

As The Breasts steered me towards a particularly precipitous drop-off, I realized it was time to stage a coup and maneuver some other part of my body to the helm.

But. Um. Frick. To rein in the breastual dictators, I was going to have to--

in -17 degrees--

when I already couldn't feel my fingers--

unzip Layer 1,

unzip Layer 2,

unzip Layer 3,

and then do some probing.

You know what I'm talkin' about, right, fellas? It was kind of like the time in your early twenties when you tried to "convert" that nun. You were a little numb; there were yards of fabric to wade through; and then once you got to actual flesh, your efforts were little more than random flailing (during which she crooned, "Oh, sweet Jesus" and made you huff, "What? You're calling out some other guy's name? Real nice, Sister Mary Agatha. I think you've just transmogrified my lust into a little something we Lutherans call predestined disappointment").

Yea, trying to zip up my running bra was exactly like feeling up Sister Mary Agatha, if, in fact, my name were Sister Mary Agatha and I were feeling up my own self.

With it being -17, though, I only copped a quickie and managed to rein in The Little Sinners before the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost got a gander.

With a subdued chest, my brain was once again nominally in charge. Immediately, it started musing, "Hey, now I'm like Jeremiah Johnson again, here, running on snowshoes. Isn't it funny how my friend Gretchen has a sister who named her baby Jeremiah Johnson AnonymousSurname? And now she insists that everybody, all the time, call that kid not just 'Jeremiah' but 'Jeremiah Johnson'? Everyone's too scared of her to ask exactly why she insists both names be used, but speculation has it that she thinks it contributes to a sense of quirky funky-ness and makes her one of those mythical beasts called The Hip Mama. But hell if I know what I think about this issue, what with me never having met the kid or the Faux Hip Mama, but now that I have no need to focus on my chest anymore, I'm kind of at loose ends here, and I have another half hour to run, so hmmm, tweedle-dee, tweedle-doo, is it just weird that she is so manic about the whole Jeremiah Johnson thing or what?"

What do you think?


Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Win One for The Mommy"

When I was about 25, I attended one of my mom's college reunions with her. Beyond this being a sad, sad commentary on the state of my twenties (Problem #1: I spent most of that decade dating a guy in his forties who just wanted to stay home and watch Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and learn AutoCAD), there was a moment at the reunion that opened my eyes to the layering of hopes across generations.

At the reunion, a former classmate of my mom's recounted her favorite memory of my mom during those college years in The Big City. As Jocelyn's Mom stood on a corner one day at a bus stop, Former Classmate happened by and caught a glimpse of Mom passing the time in a Twyla Tharpian reverie, doing heel stretches and arm swings and deep lunges there on the sidewalk. Taking a modern dance class at college that semester, my mom was getting to taste an opportunity her childhood hadn't provided. Every time she bent her elbow to ninety degrees of grace and movement there at the bus stop, she was reaching, albeit in angular fashion, beyond her upbringing.

There is no amazing finish to this anecdote, wherein she teamed up with Martha Graham and stunned the critics. Rather, after a semester of modern dance, my mom dropped out of the class during the second term. As she remembers now, "I had much other more serious stuff to do"--like trying that new invention of bread and tomato sauce that the teens of the '50s were calling pizza pie.

Is it any wonder, then, that my childhood was aimed towards fulfilling her stunted interest in dance? My after-school hours for nine years were largely devoted to twice-weekly ballet and modern dance lessons, with the occasional jazz and tap thrown in. At the time, all I knew was that I liked it. Years later, at my mom's reunion, hearing about how dance had entered her college life as a quick amuse bouche, I started to realize that I had been dancing for her, too.

That's what we do when we raise kids, ja? We refract their achievements so that we're bathed in that light, too.

Indeed, I can admit that I am a refractive, reactive parent. Many of my decisions about my kids are guided by my own childhood--namely what it lacked. Certainly, I want them to taste the experiences I enjoyed, such as playing music, jumping off a diving board, and eating dirt. But I also want their lives to compensate for what I didn't do (play soccer) or have (a straight boyfriend).

This doesn't mean I need for them to take calculus because I wimped out into the alernate honors math section in high school, a class called, somehow sneeringly, "College Algebra." The wisdom of that decision has been born out over time. I didn't need to take calc. They don't need calc. Calc makes less sense than Ashton Kutcher constantly sending out life updates on Twitter to masses of strangers. Of course, if my kids do take calculus and shine at it, I will co-opt their genius, claiming that I always was good at math (for an English major who gets bewildered by sales tax).

But here's an example of how I do put my hopes on my kids: I grew up in Montana, an hour away from Red Lodge, which is an awesome downhill ski area. I do not downhill ski. Once, when I was ten, my mom pulled my sister and me from school for a day to take us to Red Lodge, noting that if we were growing up in Montana, we should have a chance at understanding some of the words coming out of our peers' mouths, like "bunny hill," "carving," and "In the name of Sony Bono, get the St. Bernard and the brandy; I have a torn ACL."

So we had that one lesson. Seems it takes more than the one lesson. Today, in all my complex well-roundedness, I can't downhill. By extension, you might rightly surmise that I don't snowboard (I'm not closing the book on the possibility of this one yet, though; I may have a Shreddy Betty persona lurking inside me somewhere, especially since I look cute in braids, in a way that would make all the 18-year-olds on the hill come up to me and slur, "Hey, Old Lady, nice braids. Can I help you up?").

Guess what? I really want my kids to downhill ski and snowboard. I'm just that simple. Me no can do. Me would like to do. Ergo, they should do. Then I can pretend that I, too, on some level, do.

This weekend was lovely in that way, as it provided some new vistas for my kids, things I have never done but would have liked (still would like) to do. For one, I don't know how to knit (with yarn, that is; I'm actually great at weaving together a web of lies and deception that would leave Alexis Carrington begging for mercy. Just to, you know, toss out the most uncalled-for 1980's reference possible). Fortuitously, my kids say they would like to knit. Mommy can live out this dream through them! Wrapped in a heap of scarves! That look like they were knitted by a 6-year-old! Because they were!

The sticking point (in addition to irrelevant '80s references, I excel at unclever puns, by the way) about knitting at their ages is the needles. Small hands plus short patience make the needles really frustrating. We had, however, seen "finger knitting" being done by youngish kids. So this weekend, after Groom watched a bunch of YouTube videos explaining finger knitting, the kids have become passionate knitters:

Niblet declared, "This is my favooowite thing I've ever done in my whole life." When I challenged this idea, asking if finger knitting outranked visiting Legoland, he would only answer, "I could finger knit while I'm at Legoland next time, like, on the rides, and then it would be everything good all at once."

Girl stuffed the ball of yarn in her pocket and announced, "I'm so good at this, I'm going to do it while I pace."

Even more gloriously, Girl had the chance this weekend to do something else I've never done. Duluth has a small airport at the end of Park Point, which is the world's largest sandbar (next time you don't have sand rubbing you raw in your privates, you can thank us for tucking it all away into one secure location). This airport was offering free rides in wee planes over Lake Superior. Because Girl is nothing if not the embodiment of confident pragmatism, she and her best friend gave us a casual wave and hopped in, taking only a moment to strap on seat belts and headsets:

And isn't this what kids do, ultimately, as they grow up? They take the opportunities, they take our dreams, they take our hopes, and they fly off with them?

Those of us on the ground are left gasping in awe and joy at their magnificence. Ultimately, it is a singular pleasure to be a part of the audience.