Monthly Archives: October 2005

Post Halloween

Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m a little bit crazy when it comes to my Halloween rituals. The decorations must be up by the first week of October; there must be pumpkin soup and pumpkin muffins on Halloween night; and the candy blend must be 90% chocolate and 10% awful sour things that only kids like, with a few spider rings and rubber rats thrown in for good measure. Oh, and recently, there has been one more thing, one more tradition that I have added to my already lengthy Halloween list: a few days after Halloween, usually about the time all the decoration are put back into their boxes, I must freak out and start throwing all of the leftover candy into the trash can.

It’s not what you think: I’m not one of those mothers who only lets their kids have sugar twice a year, or even one of those mothers who carefully doles out one single piece of candy a night for weeks after the big event. And I’m definitely not one of those mothers who stockpiles little toys and prizes for her kids to “buy” with their candy on Halloween night, thereby severely limiting their sugar haul. On the contrary, my philosophy is: you earned it, you eat it. All of it. All you want. All you can hold. All you can keep down. Live it up, is what I like to say.

At least, that’s what I like to say for the first day or two, when everybody is still flush with candy wealth, and the chocolate induced serotonin stream is still flowing strong. That phase, however, never seems to last very long; soon the “good” candy has left everybody’s bags, and before you know it even the “ok”; “pretty good”; and “not so good” supplies are running low. Suddenly, all of the kids start looking at each other like they’re partners in some Sierra Madre gold mine, and the bonds of friendship that had formed so easily back in the heady nights of “M&M’s for everyone” begin to evaporate wispily in the harsh morning light of “Sweet-Tarts for none.” It is remarkably the same problem that most people seem to have with cocaine: there is, at once, too much and never enough of it.

It is when we are there, deep in the throes of the “never enough” stage, when the fighting, the bickering, the squabbling, the accusations, the denials, the trials in absentia, the frontier justice, the looting, and the vigilantism all come to a head, that I finally lose it and start throwing every piece of candy I can get my hands on into the nearest trash can. It wouldn’t be so bad if the candy they were fighting over was worth it, but c’mon: mixing it up over a handful of Bit O’ Honeys, Mary Janes, and Jolly Ranchers? What’s next: arguing over the giblets at Thanksgiving? Agitating to lick the stuffing spoon at Christmas?

Of course, in their defense, it’s not always the B-list candies that they’re fighting over: occasionally, once it’s all been tossed spitefully into the trash can by yours truly, they will see a Twix or a Kit Kat that somehow got overlooked, sitting like a golden nugget amidst the butter wrappers and baloney rinds. It is then, hopefully, that they truly feel the loss that their senseless fighting has wrought.

Nah. But that’s ok, because even if they aren’t learning a valuable lesson about trust and cooperation, then they are still learning a valuable lesson about how new Halloween traditions start: in this case, it’s the one where Mommy and Daddy get to enjoy a delicious post-bedtime treat of chocolate, with just a little sprinkling of coffee grounds and eggs shells on the side.

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Tastes Like Chicken

There are many different types of vegetarians. There’s the type that won’t eat any animal products at all; the type that will eat eggs and dairy, but not fish; and the type that will only eat food that is raw. Then there’s my daughter, Clementine. Clementine has created her own type of vegetarianism, one that is so simple that she should easily be able to follow it for the rest of her life. Clementine is the type of vegetarian that will only eat things that have been breaded, and deep-fried.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s not a vegetarian, that’s a redneck; and it’s true that in her quest to sample the fryers of the world, Clementine has eaten her fair share of meat. (As I commit this public outing of Clementine’s not-quite-so-vegetarian lifestyle, I am irresistibly reminded of the time I saw Michael Stipe of R.E.M. outed in a vegetarian magazine. “ READER ALERT!!!” screamed the headline, “ Michael Stipe seen in Atlanta area grocery store purchasing ROTISSERIE CHICKEN!”).

Perhaps not so coincidentally, it was also chicken that began Clementine’s backslide from “true” vegetarian to “sometime” veggie: she just couldn’t stay away from those chicken strips. Of course, it’s not like she has ever really tried, but, even if she were to give it her best shot she would certainly be doomed to fail, since it is a sad facet of the modern restaurant industry that restaurants without chicken strips on their menus are scarcer than, well, hen’s teeth. Mexican restaurants have them. Chinese restaurants have them. I have even been to a Turkish restaurant that, along with its more traditional fare like broiled sheep’s tongue, had them. So ubiquitous is the chicken strip, in fact, that I have no doubt that if we were to someday travel deep enough into the Amazon to discover some unknown civilization, what we would be served at our welcoming banquet would include–you guessed it–chicken strips. (Alternatively, we ourselves would be served as a course; but even if this were to happen, I am sure that some part of us would be breaded, deep-fried, and presented to the chief’s children as “chicken strips”.)

The “chicken-stripping” of America (and beyond) is detrimental on so many different levels (not the least of which being its deleterious effect on poultry morale), but perhaps its most insidious effect has been its cunning ability to undermine all my efforts at ensuring that my children, at least every now and again, eat a food item that does not appear on a big lit up menu with the letters “Mc” in front of it.

Here was the plan: my husband and I decided that whenever our family took a trip, we would insist on stopping at least once at some place of which there existed only one in the whole world: the diners with velvet oil paintings of Bob Dylan in his born-again Christian years, the truck stops selling row after row of “herbal stimulants”, even the combination BBQ joints/fireworks stands.

In doing this, it was our hope that we would be able to expose our children to a wide variety of foods, from peanut soup to piki bread. Instead, what we exposed them (and ourselves) to is the fact that the chicken strip is everywhere. No sooner would we push past the dusty bead curtain into what looked like some funky Middle Eastern souk than our hopes of diversity would be shattered by Clementine waving away the menu to demand, “chicken strips and fries”, which would, to our great chagrin, then appear.
Eliot said that the world will end not with a bang, but a whimper, but from what I’ve seen, he was only half right: judging by the world’s menus alone, I think it will end with a “cluck, cluck.”

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Recently, archaeologists in Europe made an exciting discovery: a two-thousand year old shoe. They were beyond thrilled to make such a find; in fact, they were probably almost as thrilled as the person who lost it would have been to find it two thousand years ago, or rather, almost as thrilled as that person’s mother would have been, because of course it must have been a child who lost it. Who else besides a child can lose one shoe? (Granted, there have been times when, due to celebratory occasions like New year’s Eve, the last day of finals, and finding a ten dollar bill in the pocket of an old pair of jeans, that I have managed to lose both of my shoes on the way home from the bar, but as for losing just one?-never.) No, it takes a certain kind of person to be able to walk home in the snow with only one snow boot on: it takes a child; or maybe it takes my child–I don’t know.

I do know that when I was flipping through a parenting magazine last week I noticed there were not one but two articles on how to keep from losing either one sock or one mitten–there was even an article tucked away in the back pages about how not to lose the sheets in a matching sheet set–but, as far as I could tell, absolutely nothing about how not to lose just one shoe. This would probably explain why my son, Clyde, is often the only child at daycare wearing one flip-flop and one high top sneaker. Now, personally, I considered the day to be a sartorial success if he manages to be wearing one left shoe and one right shoe (extra points for being on the correct feet), but judging from the funny looks he often receives from the other parents, sartorial success might be measured differently in different households.

Of course, that was something I had pretty much figured out long before the “sock-saving” article came along; reading it only confirmed what I had long suspected to be true. For one thing, this article suggested that mothers hang on to “loner” socks for a maximum of three loads of laundry; if the mate didn’t show up in the allotted time frame, then the mother should simply throw the lone wolf sock away. Throw it away? A perfectly good sock with no holes, no foxtails embedded in the cuff, and no coating of funky green fuzz from being stored, wet, in the bottom of a backpack with half a bag of cheetos and a spilled Gatorade for an entire school year? If I had access to a gem such as that I might mount it and hang it above my mantelpiece; I might place it in the cornerstone of the new courthouse as a time capsule; I might even cryogenically freeze it and store it in the same vault with Ted Williams’ head; the one thing I certainly would not do, however, would be to throw it away.

We must live in quite the culture of excess when parenting magazines are seriously suggesting throwing out perfectly good clothes simply because they don’t conform to some arbitrary standard of couture symmetry. I’m sure that the mother 2000 years ago didn’t throw out the remaining shoe when her little cave child came limping home in the snow trailing his wooly mammoth coat on the ground and handing her his two-week old stone tablet announcing that the sign-up meeting for the Sabre Tooth Cubs was tonight.

In fact, I’ll bet she didn’t even get him a new shoe to match the old one; to this day his descendants probably still don’t wear two shoes at a time in his sainted honor. Well, at least that would explain my children.

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Diet Guru

It is a sad truth that, thanks to my stout Poe genes, I have been on nearly every diet that has ever been invented: I have been on the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet, the low-fat diet, the no yeast diet, the “eat-right-for-your-blood-type” diet, and, of course, the Atkins diet (actually, I’ve been on that one twice–the first time was way back in the1970’s, when it made its original appearance in the form of the Lo-Cal Plate: a naked hamburger patty and a scoop of cottage cheese). I have even been on diets of my own invention: during my freshman year of college, when I still ate in the dining hall, I went on the all-u-can-eat jell-o diet–which, needless to say, not only failed abysmally but also gave me a lifelong dread of brightly colored food ; in retrospect, of course, I now see that this is not an altogether bad dread to have. (Although, to be honest, I never really expected the jell-o diet to work; it was less a diet than a lifestyle choice.)

After my most recent diet ( the Atkins redux), I swore I was off all diets for good–a life vow I managed to keep for several long weeks, right up until the moment I stumbled upon the Ultimate Diet of All Time, the diet that is destined to change the face (and butt) of America: Clementine’s Forgotten Pet Diet.

The rules of this diet are so simple that even Paris Hilton could follow them (and, in fact, looks like she has been doing just that for quite some time now):to achieve optimum results, you simply have to limit yourself to eating only during those rare times when my daughter, Clementine, remembers to feed her pets. What could possibly be easier, or produce more immediate results? In fact, just thinking about how svelte Hermie the hermit crab was (right before he dried out completely and became a desiccated husk) makes me want to go ahead and order my size 2 jeans right now.

Dangerous, you say? Reckless? Mad? Of course, you would say that: genius is always scorned before it is embraced. Besides which: isn’t beauty worth it? And in any case, I’m not completely insane: there will be a system in place to make sure no one actually dies this time (recquiescat in pace, Hermie). Consider, for example, just a few of the advantages that your average dieter has over any one of Clementine’s pets. For one thing, the average dieter is almost certain to be in a much better position to miss a meal than your average Sea Monkey is(or for that matter, your Well Above Average Sea Monkey). For another thing: it’s much easier for a human to pester Clementine to fill up their feed bowl than it was for all the hermit crabs, beta fish, and parakeets that have passed through Clementine’s room(may their souls find peace). In fact, possibly the only creature who is better suited for this task than your typical dieter may be the cat, who very quickly mastered the art of lying on Clementine’s face whenever his food bowl was empty, (a move I am hoping most dieters will wait until they are closer to Kate Moss than Kate Smith to attempt.)

Still, you say, aren’t you worried about the possible health risks of jumping onto the fad diet band wagon, especially one as untested as this one? Pshaw, I reply (I really do). After all, percentage-wise, most of Clementine’s pets haven’t starved to death. Besides, it’s not as if this is a diet that’s really extreme; for that you’d need a diet that involves only eating when Congress gets around to funding African famine relief.

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