Monthly Archives: December 2005


So the other day I’m walking through the parking lot at Wal-Mart with another parent, and–wait a minute, you say–you went to Wal-Mart? Ok, look, here’s the deal: it wasn’t my idea to go to Wal-Mart; it wasn’t my idea to hammer another nail into the coffin of free enterprise, fair trade and honest wages–it was the other parent’s (hereafter referred to as O.P.)–honest. In fact, I was so ashamed to be seen there that not only did I tell my daughter, Clementine, to avert her eyes, but I also told my spare daughter, Aiyana, to under no circumstances tell her mother where we had been that day. The hard truth though, was that I wasn’t the one who was driving that day, so what could I do? Well, besides bitch and complain, of course, which is exactly what I was doing–using a few of my favorite, choicest expressions, I might add–when I felt the kick.

It was one of those sly, walking-along-the-side-of-you kicks, so subtle that I wasn’t even sure I had felt it. It was with a certain level of disbelief, then, that I asked the O.P.( the only other adult–and therefore the only person with legs long enough to pull off such a maneuver): “Did you just kick me in the ass?” This question was immediately answered with another kick. “What the hell–” I started to say, but was interrupted by yet another boot to the rear. It was then that I noticed that his son, a boy about Clementine’s age, was eagerly soaking up every swear word that had left my mouth: he couldn’t have been working harder to commit those words to memory if he had been trying for a perfect score on the vocabulary section of his SAT. Of course I thought to myself, I’m not supposed to swear in front of other people’s children.

This has been a hard lesson for me to remember, especially since I gave up on toning down my language in front of my own children years ago. My New Years’ resolution, in fact, is to swear more, or at least to swear more creatively. (This, I think, was influenced by a year end blitz of British movies). Don’t get me wrong: I still don’t countenance swearing by children (mine or anyone else’s). But swearing because of children makes perfect sense. After all, it’s only fair that the choicest language belongs to adults, since we’re also the ones who are stuck with the choicest tasks like paying taxes, being drafted, and arguing with insurance company representatives. By the same token, it’s also only fair that adults are the only ones allowed to call the politicians who pre-empt The Simpsons certain words–among them a word that Lenny Bruce so aptly recalled as “a ten-letter word describing any woman I would like to someday meet and possibly marry”–since these same adults are also, by default, the only ones who get to use words like: “Don’t worry, I’ll get the check” and “You take the last piece of pizza–I’m sure there’s a can of lima beans back here in the cupboard somewhere”.

Still, even though I don’t necessarily agree with them, I can understand the parents who are adamantly against swearing in front of their children, and, if I had believed that the ass-kicking parent in question at Wal-Mart was one of these stalwarts then I would have received the kick(s) with a little more grace. This, however, was not the case: on the contrary, it’s not just that this O.P. doesn’t swear in front of my children, it’s worse: he pseudo-swears in front of them, using anemic, near-beer linguistic dodges like “effing”. Personally, I would rather my children listen to Howard Stern for 12 hours straight than be led down the slippery slope of insipid fakery that comes with words like “effing” and “shoot”; after all, isn’t it really just a short hop from fake swearing to eating Vegan Carob Chip cookies and smoking clove cigarettes? Once started on that path, who knows where they’ll end up. It might even be–God forbid–the parking lot at Wal-Mart.

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O, Tannenbaum I

I am not a Scrooge.

OK–even though typing those words once makes me feel like I should be hunching my shoulders, furrowing my brow and flashing dueling “peace” signs, recent accusations to the contrary (you know who you are) make it necessary for me to repeat it: I am not a Scrooge. Really, I love Christmas. I love the cookies, the lights, the cookies, the parties, the cookies, wrapping presents, the cookies, addressing Christmas cards–did I mention the cookies?–I love almost everything, in fact, that Christmas has to offer, except for one little thing: the tree.

There. I said it: I don’t like Christmas trees. Oh, I like the idea of a Christmas tree; I like traipsing out into the woods with our trusty saw and even trustier Thermos of heavily-spiked coffee (and cookies). I like pulling out all of the old family ornaments and explaining once again that the reason we are hanging up half an ancient toilet paper roll with four pieces of glitter stuck to the bottom is that I can still remember when my sister and I made those ornaments, and yes, it really is supposed to be Snoopy dressed as Rudolph, thank you very much. I even like sitting out next to the tree late at night or early in the morning and watching all of the colored lights flashing on and off in the dark like some arboreal distress call. I like all of these things, and yet, really, I don’t like Christmas trees; or, to be more precise, I don’t like post-Christmas trees.

Is there anything more pathetic than a Christmas tree once all of the presents have been opened? Let’s be honest: like a turkey carcass the day after Thanksgiving, or a party girl the morning of New Year’s, a present-less Christmas tree is just living on our sufferance until it is finally time for it to be kicked to the curb. It is the very essence of potential wasted: whereas before Christmas you might look at that tree and think of all the possibilities: maybe Grandma and Grandpa hid a college fund in one of those envelopes; maybe your spouse took the subtle hint (catalog opened, item number circled, phone and credit card close at hand) and got you that sexy nightgown you have been eying; maybe you even took his not-so-subtle hint and got him that iPod. After Christmas, however, all possibility is over: not a college fund, but a 1700 piece Lite Brite set; not the sexy lingerie from Victoria’s Secret, but a flannel granny gown from J.C.Penney; and instead of the iPod, just another package of tube socks.

I know: none of this is the Christmas tree’s fault, but somehow, my disappointment and the Christmas tree’s presence always seem to go hand in hand. (Or limb in limb–whatever.) Of course, the tree isn’t helping itself any when immediately following the Big Day it begins to wantonly throw dry pine needles all over the place. (Although, actually, this is one of a Christmas tree’s habits that I can relate to–after all, if someone pulled me from out of my home in the middle of the night, dragged me off to their living room and then crucified me in the corner, I would probably throw stuff at them, too–the kind of stuff that makes stepping barefoot on a pine needle in the middle of the night seem downright pleasant).

The thing is, like so many of my quirks, my Christmas tree animosity was never a problem until my children got older ( for years they thought it was normal to drag the Christmas tree out to the curb by 9:00 am Christmas morning). Now though, thanks to their age and the accusations of certain of their friends’ parents (again, you know who you are), they have started campaigning to leave our tree up later in the season. There’s even been talk of January. January! All I can say to that is: bah humbug. Oh, and once again: I am not a Scrooge.

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Other Bad Children

The other week, in a moment of temporary insanity, I took my children hiking. Now, faithful readers of this column might remember the last time I took my children hiking: the whining; the begging; the final, feeble stagger back to the car. (The kids didn’t do too well, either). Remembering this, those same faithful readers are probably shaking their heads right now and saying to themselves, “Another hike? What was she thinking? Doesn’t she remember the Red Mountain Death March of 2004? The Abominable Snowbowl Meltdown of 2003?”

The short answer to all of these very valid questions is: of course I don’t. I’m a parent: I don’t remember anything. In fact, it is only the conscious forgetting of the many terrible ordeals I have suffered throughout the years that enables me to make it through the day without twitching. This planned obliviousness is also why I now must ask you, faithful readers, to help me out. The next time you see me and my children in the parking area of anything even remotely resembling a hike, please beat me about the head and shoulders with the heaviest edition of Richard and Sherry Mangums’ Flagstaff Hikes you can find. Trust me: I will thank you for it in the morning.

As you have no doubt by now guessed, on this most recent of hikes there were no faithful readers, with or without the Mangums’ tome. Luckily, though, there was something even better: other people’s children behaving badly; behaving, if possible, even a little more badly than mine. True, mine (or at least Clyde) were whining; but theirs were whining louder. Mine (again, Clyde) were begging to be picked up and carried; but theirs were begging for it even louder. And finally, mine (yep, Clyde) were falling down, scraping a tiny bit of epidermis off of their knees and then howling like they were in the amputation ward of a Civil War hospital; but, again, theirs were howling louder.

It was wonderful: there is just something so freeing about somebody else’s children behaving worse than your own, even if it is only by the smallest of degrees. For one thing, it means that you get to be the benevolent one, the one who smiles understandingly while oozing munificent platitudes like: don’t worry; it’s ok; and, these things happen.

Oh, how I cherish those rare moments when I get to be the understanding other mom. Some people, when they get on an airplane, ask to be seated as far away from the babies as possible. Not me–I like to be in the seat right behind them, because I know that if a pair of three month old twins with ear infections can’t make my children look good, then nothing will.

And, though it may seem cruel for me to wish for another parent’s discomfort, as the one who has been on the mortified other end of the stick all too often, as the one who has apologized sheepishly one too many times as someone else’s child comes running into the house crying and sporting a goose egg on their forehead while my own child comes strolling in nonchalantly swinging the world’s biggest whupping stick–well, all I can say is that I think I deserve a little slack.

In the end I actually enjoyed our most recent hike: although my children–ok, Clyde–at one point flopped on the trail, crying piteously, theirs flopped just a little ways off, crying even more piteously still. In fact, factoring in the O.P. (Other People’s) children quotient, our hike ended up being so enjoyable that I found myself dusting off my old ambition to someday hike the Grand Canyon with Clementine. Yikes. My only hope now is that, somewhere between the back porch at the El Tovar and the beginning of the Bright Angel Trail we’ll run into a faithful reader, Mangum book at the ready.

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Littlest Consumer

“Just buy me something!”

It seems to me that there are few periods in childhood that are more frustrating than the time that comes right after articulation, but just before rationalization. It is the time when they are finally able to tell you exactly what they want, but still not able to understand why they can’t have it. Such was the case a few years ago when our annual trip to the Phoenix zoo ended in our annual meltdown in front of the gift shop (conveniently placed near the only exit).

We had almost made it out the gates, when suddenly Clementine realized that we were actually going to leave without buying one single thing: no tube of little plastic animals to get lost in the car seats before we had even left the parking lot; no stuffed bear sporting the holiday wear of the season–not even a smashed penny. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. This, of course, fired up every single one of her consumer sensibilities, as well as her incipient patriotic fervor (I think it was soon enough after 9/11 that the nation–Clementine included–was still trying to “shop its troubles away.”) As the awful realization that she was about to become persona non shoppa finally sunk in, she dug in her heels (both figuratively and literally), and, refusing to go even one step further, issued the now famous demand, “Just buy me something!”

I could see other parents eyeing us nervously as they too made the mad dash to the exit, and, even though I could see that they felt for me, I could also see that they were desperately trying to avoid having their own children contaminated with what looked to be a very serious case of consumer longing. It’s true: avarice is the most contagious of all childhood diseases; in Clementine’s case I believe she had picked it up by unprotected exposure to some contaminated toy catalogs– for days she had been carrying them around the house, lovingly stroking them so often that you would have thought they had been retrieved from the Lost Ark of the Covenant instead of their true origin, which was the recycling bin.

So there we were, in the middle of the zoo exit; it was plain to see that, as far as Clementine was concerned her plastic levels were dangerously low, and that only by dint of an immediate intervention in the form of some cheap, yet overpriced Chinese toy product could she be saved from a case of pernicious toylessness (a disease that hasn’t been seen in this country for the last fifty years–except, of course, in the Amish; but then again, they don’t vaccinate).

Hoping to head this outbreak off at the pass, I told her the story of her great-grandmother, and how she had considered herself to be the luckiest child I the world if she got one orange for Christmas. I told her the story of children throughout the world who had to make their own toys out of pieces of paper and plastic bags. Hitting my stride, I was about to launch into even more pitiful tales still when suddenly Clementine gave me a look that told me the awful truth: she knew. She knew I was a fraud: wasn’t I the same one who had grown up demanding, and frequently receiving, my own weight in Barbie dolls and Breyer horses? How could I be playing the hypocrite now, when the weight of a thousand discarded Barbie shoes still lay heavy on my back?

Properly chagrined, I meekly followed her into the gift shop where I bought her something–maybe a plastic monkey cup; all I really remember is that whatever it was it only kept her satisfied until our next stop at a gas station twenty miles down the road, where, surrounded by aisles full of chips, candies and sodas, Clementine once more turned to me in frustration and demanded, “Just buy me something!” This time, though, I was better able to resist: after all, even the weight of a thousand Barbie shoes can only go so far.

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