Monthly Archives: September 2005

Got A Light?

The other day, apparently struck by the fact that my yard, despite its healthy covering of weeds, broken toys and mateless shoes, still did not yet scream “White Trash!”, I got a trampoline. Or rather, as I keep insisting over and over, I borrowed a trampoline from the neighbors down the street who, in a stroke of devious genius that was as impressive as it was unscrupulous, claimed that they were no longer allowed to keep the trampoline in their own yard because of “insurance issues” but who, in reality, are probably at this very moment planning how to spend the windfall they will receive from my insurance company when their children fall off of the damn thing as it sits in my yard. (The Costa Rican beach house brochures on their kitchen counter were my first clue).

On the day of the big move, however, visions of lawyers and home insurance representatives camped out on my front doorstep were still somewhere far off in the distance; our attention was solely focused on how to get our new bouncy addition from yard A to yard B in the fewest possible steps. Despite bringing the mental powers of four adults to bear, however–perhaps because our previous “test” jumping sessions had managed to funnel all of our brains down into our feet–we somehow came to the conclusion that the best way to move the trampoline would be to carry the whole thing intact; since our two yards are only a minuscule 100 feet apart from each other (as the crow flies), this seemed, at first glance, reasonable. However, it did not take us long to realize that, while crows may fly, trampolines do not, and to move this trampoline those minuscule 100 feet would require a circuitous trip through back yard gates and down narrow, tree-lined alleys. To further complicate matters, it turns out that our back gate, having been run into more times than driven through, no longer opens fully. This meant that the entire contraption had to be hoisted above our heads and lifted over a six-foot chain link fence, with the wives (it’s always the wives) walking backwards through a veritable minefield of weed shrouded Tonka trucks the whole time.

It was at that exact moment of peril that something very odd happened: nothing. This was odd because it is usually at moments like those, when I am stuck with my shaking arms over my head and a trampoline on the throat only one unseen dumptruck away that one of my children will decide to thrust a banana under my nose and ask “Can you open this?” In fact, given their previous track records of asking me to wipe their butts while I am up on an extension ladder painting the eaves, or make them a peanut butter sandwich while I am on the toilet (helpfully bringing the bread, peanut butter and a knife all in to me), it seemed like this would’ve been the perfect time for them to ask a question of that sort.

For some reason, however, they did not; perhaps it was because they were so amazed at our ingenuity/stupidity in the field of trampoline transportation, or maybe, having noticed the power lines swaying ominously just inches over the metal-framed trampoline held above our heads, they were savoring the thought of their soon-to-be parentless existence; regardless of the reasons, this time they just stood there with their mouths agape.

Alas, the mysterious truce did not last long: no sooner had I climbed up on top of our new (temporary!) trampoline than Clyde appeared standing next to it, orange in hand; even though when he spoke I was already high into the air on my first jump, I could still clearly hear him as he asked me, “Open?”

(This column was written for my soon-to-be former neighbors, Way and Kim, who are moving this week and who promise to take their trampoline with them. The ‘hood just won’t be the same without you guys.)

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Of all the things I just don’t understand about children (and there are quite a few), one of the top contenders has to be the whole underwear thing: I have yet to meet a child who will wear a pair willingly. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, at any given time, your chances of finding a child who is actually wearing underwear is at best 50%. (Come to think of it, if it was socially acceptable to pick up stray children and look in their pants, you could devise some sort of new drinking game that way–“Ok, first person who gets three commandos in a row has to take a drink.”). And even though I think I have heard every possible excuse for underwear avoidance, I am still at a loss to explain this phenomenon. All I can do is report it, and, when I can, try and correct it.

That would explain, on a recent visit to Kohl’s, my instructions to Clementine to “go pick out some new underwear.” Notice I didn’t say, “wait here while I go pick out some new underwear for you,” or even “let’s go pick out some new underwear together,” but rather, in a show of my cool, open-minded, groovy Mom-ness, sent Clementine off to pick out underwear all on her own, without even admonishing her to “make sure and get the cheap kind” or “no High School Musical 2 thongs.” And, when she showed up at the checkout with a package of plain (and cheap!) underwear, I felt vindicated in my new hands-off approach to parenting. Or, at least I did: right up until my next surprise drawer inspection. (That would be dresser drawers; I wasn’t drinking.)

“How come almost all of your new underwear is still in the package?” I asked. “Aren’t you wearing it?”

“They’re too big,” she replied.

Nice try, I thought. Too big: that’s the lamest excuse I’ve heard since–holy crap! You could hold a circus in these things! And it was true: this wasn’t just “big” underwear; it was monstrous underwear; her only hope for ever keeping it up would be to pull it up and over her shoulders a´ la Borat and the “Mankini.”

“What,” I asked, “ever possessed you to buy Anna Nicole Smith-size underwear?” Her only reply was to shrug her shoulders in the 11-year-old’s version of c’est la vie, and casually say, “They don’t put the sizes on the outside of the packages.”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not that hip on all the new marketing practices, and I’ll also cop to buying my own underwear so infrequently that even Bridget Jones would be appalled at the state of my lingerie drawer, but somehow, I seriously doubt that the newest fad is to play Russian Roulette with your undergarments. Can you imagine the suspense? Tens of thousands of people the world over, eagerly tearing into their newest underwear purchase, only to be disappointed again and again. We would have to form “Wedgie Support Groups,” not to mention all sorts of underwear exchange networks–eDrawers, perhaps–both online and in person (“Come to my house Tuesday night for an Underwear Swap!–Sorry, no size 0’s”). And what about the Victoria’s Secret catalog? It would take ages to shoot. (“Damn! Another package of “granny panties.” Hold on girls: I’m sure there’s a thong in here somewhere.”)

The truth, however, is much less interesting: in my bid to be “cool–yet conscientious” I fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book: the old “pick out huge underwear so you don’t have to wear it” trick. What? That’s not in your book? Just as I suspected: my kids are reading an entirely different book.

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Now that school is once again back in session, and every minute between violin lessons and soccer practice must be scrupulously accounted for, it is only a matter of time before the playdate season will be upon us; although, in my case, the phrase “playdate” might be a little ambitious: “sobbingdate,” “not sharingdate,” or even “fightingdate” would all be more apt. In fact, playdates with my son, Clyde, are so guaranteed to result in at least one round of tears and recriminations that it is a constant source of amazement to me that we can show up at the park and not be preceded by a girl in a bikini holding up a big sign proclaiming “Round One”.

In all fairness to Clyde, though, I must admit that at least most of the fighting he does is not of the physical variety; even though, in all actuality, this is not such a good thing: at least the physical fights are easy enough to referee (or, if you choose not to act, easy enough to watch: if you like the bum fighting on pay per view, then you’ll love watching a pair of four-year-olds trying to sit on each others’ heads).

No, unfortunately the fighting I’m talking about is usually of the verbal, tormenting variety, the kind that does not make for good TV (unless, of course, you happen to be a big fan of “Mama’s Family”). This is the kind of fighting where every 30 seconds or so one of the playdate participants comes running up to the mothers’ group sobbing about “He called me a jingafoo!” or “She said I don’t know how to play terwickle!” or some other kind of unfathomable nonsense. (One quick note: even though, when the sobbee is asked what exactly a jingafoo is or what terwickle means, their response will always be, “I don’t know”, it will do you absolutely no good to point this out; like the Supreme Court justice who once said he didn’t know the definition of obscenity, but sure as hell knew it when he saw it, a four-year-old might not understand the exact nature of an insult, but he sure as hell can recognize one when he receives it.)

Lately, though, even the obscure verbal taunting has become passe, as Clyde has now gotten old enough to engage in the cruelest form of torment of all: shunning. These days, instead of merely kicking his opponents in the shins, or even calling them made-up and vaguely insulting names, he instead lets fly the biggest playground bomb of them all: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”

This is a particularly effective piece of torment for the simple reason that it always guarantees such a good reaction from everyone present. From the mothers, (most of whom probably last heard this phrase back in high school, right before they found out that the speaker was sleeping with their soon to be ex-boyfriend), there is consternation; from the child thus tormented there is the speedy deflation of the ego; and from the child that says it there is that bright glow of pride that comes from knowing they are the possessor of a weapon of infinite power (at least up until, in a sort of playground MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) it gets turned around and used against them).

Some people will claim that at least at this age the fights are easier to break up and soothe over, but as for me, the sight of a sobbing, heart-broken four-year-old makes me long for the day when they will simply resolve their differences by agreeing to beat each other up behind the high school after last period. At least then they will be the ones that have to negotiate a free moment between violin and soccer.

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Noise Pollution

A few weeks ago, after visiting a local classroom, a friend of mine had this to say about it: “Kelly, you would have hated it.” Not, “I hated it,” or even “Anyone would have hated it,” but that I, in particular, and (I am assuming) no one else, would have hated this classroom. When I asked her why, she explained to me that this teacher’s method for restoring peace and quiet in the classroom was to sing her students a special “quiet time” song.

Ever quick to rush to my own defense, I pointed out that I, too, have been known to use the soothing powers of music to quiet down my children: in fact, just last week I had used the dulcet tones of Alanis Morrisette cranked up to 11 in an effort to establish order between the battling siblings in the back seat. The week before that I had used my favorite Fear tape, and the week before that it was The Pretenders. Whether or not any of these songs actually quieted them down or not I couldn’t say: all I know is that, acoustically wrapped in the screeching voice of my own choosing, I, at least was calm.

Really, I think this may be the best way to soothe a howling child since the advent of “baby whispering”; after all, isn’t not hearing a screaming child practically the same thing as not having one? If you don’t believe me then try it out for yourself, but first, a word of warning is in order: for this system to achieve optimal results, you, yourself, must really like the music you are blaring. It’s kind of the same as the theory about smoke and bars, the one that states that if you’re surrounded by a cloud of your own smoke, then the smoke of others won’t seem so bad. The problem with this theory is that it only holds true for those who smoke to begin with; for others, like myself (who can’t operate a lighter without burning my fingers, let alone successfully inhale an entire cigarette), this defense against indoor air pollution is particularly useless.

And so it with using music to combat back seat noise pollution: you, yourself, must be able to handle the music you are playing before you use it as a protective shield. This means that, while you may be tempted to give them the Manuel Noriega treatment and try to blast them into submission with some truly heinous tape you picked up at a yard sale, you really should reconsider following this particular course of action: after all, these are the same people who grew up singing along with Barney–who’s really going to come out the worst from an extended top-volume playing of Menudo?

If, however, you already own a steady supply of tapes that you love and your children loathe (in my case, that’s the only type of tapes I own), then you’re all set for total front seat domination. One final caveat, though: remember, what goes around comes around, and it won’t be that long until you’re the one cringing in the back seat as their musical selections come blaring out of the stereo. If, knowing this, you decide to take it a little bit easy on them, well, good for you. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, go ahead and use this as one of your last chances to pack in all the retribution you can for the coming years of crimes against musical nature that loom ahead. After all, it could be even worse than you could ever imagine: your children could grow up to like jazz.

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