Monthly Archives: April 2006


In a typical week, I get a lot of suggestions about ideas for my column; usually these suggestions are somewhat along the lines of: “you should really write about how the government is trying to poison us with contrails” or “why don’t you ever say anything nice about George Bush?” My usual response is either: a) a knowing smile and the words, “Yes, I see your point,” (thanks, Way), or, if the person seems relatively coherent; b) “And this would relate to the subject of my children, how?” Recently, however, I got a suggestion that I could actually use: a friend of mine whose children’s sled had been stolen from them at the sledding run just the day before suggested that perhaps I should write a column about “The terrible type of person that would actually STEAL a child’s sled.”

Finally, I thought, something I could use, especially since I, too, had been sledding with my children just the day before. (No, I wasn’t the terrible person in question). In fact, it was that very sledding experience that prompted my response to her tale of sled-less woe: a very Napoleon Dynamite-ish : “Lucky.” Needless to say, this wasn’t terribly well received.

Despite its reception, however, I still stand by my reaction: after all, how much luckier could you get than having your sled stolen while still at the sledding run? No more sled means that–through no fault of your own, through no exercising of the “meanest Mommy in the whole wide world” prerogative–sledding is now over for the day Even children can comprehend that when the sled is gone, so is any chance for more sledding that day. (This is what is known, in my book, as a win/win/win situation, meaning that everything turned out the best for me, myself, and I.)

This same thing cannot be said for some of the other ways for sledding to end prematurely, like frozen fingers, high-speed collisions and icy face plants. In fact, a quick examination of even the simplified version of the North American Trauma Scale (where x=severity of trauma and y=the length of the ensuing crying jag) will clearly show how it is truly in everyone’s best interest if the sledding expedition ends by theft rather than injury.

Of course, if you’re the only one at the sledding run, or if everyone else at the run just hopped off some kind of church bus, then theft isn’t really an option, and injury is your only hope for going home in a reasonable amount of time. In that case I always recommend picking the slope with the greatest number of beer cans at the top: the cheaper the beer, the better. (The rationale here is that, in much the same way that PJ O’Rourke suggests that the volume and quality of roadside crosses is the best way to judge how dangerous an upcoming curve is on a Third World byway, it is also possible to use the volume and quality of beer cans at the top of a sledding run to best determine how foolish one needs to be to attempt the upcoming hill. Therefore, a slope with a few empty Guinnesses at the top would probably qualify as a bunny hill, while one with its own small mountain of Busch cans is clearly a Black Diamond run.)

Now, I’m sure that there are some people out there (probably from Phoenix) who would wonder why anyone would choose to end an idyllic day’s sledding early. These are probably the same people who picture their family standing cosily at the top of the sledding hill, sipping hot chocolate from an engraved thermos and wearing matching LL Bean snow outfits. For the rest of us, though–the ones that know that the scene at the sledding hill is more reminiscent of Shackleton’s “Endurance” polar expedition (minus the stiff British upper lips) than a Norelco Xmas commercial–know that the surest way to ensure an enjoyable snowy day with our children is to put a thick (and preferably insulated) piece of glass between us. At least, it is until they get old enough to drag their own sleds back up the hill–or buy their own Busch beer, whichever comes first.

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Shoeless Joe

Except for the wind, I have always looked forward to spring in Flagstaff: the daffodils, the Tevas, the impromptu tea-turning-into-cocktail parties in the back yard. As my children have gotten older, however, and as their extracurricular activities have diversified and increased, spring has become for me not so much the season of renewal as the season of “re-shoe-al”; it seems that every year we end up buying an Imelda-sized load of shoes just to see us through all of our new activities. There are the soccer shoes. The riding boots. The water socks. Shoes for school and shoes for the creek. Shoes for the recital and shoes for hiking. And, as sure as every new box of shoes contains a delicious looking little package labeled “Do Not Eat” (which someone will immediately try to eat), the advent of all these new shoes brings the true harbinger of spring himself: the shoe thief.

The shoe thief is that nefarious ne’er-do-well who sneaks into honest folks’ homes at night and steals their children’s shoes; you’ll know when he has ventured into your neighborhood because that’s when your children’s shoes will begin to disappear. And when I say disappear, I mean that in the most literal sense; it’s as if, during some point in the night, their shoes were sprinkled with some kind of magic powder that causes them to instantly vanish from sight–a child’s sight, that is.

That is the worst aspect of the shoe thief: not only does he manage to steal your children shoes from right under their noses (there’s a visual for you), he also manages to always steal them in the five minutes immediately preceding whatever activity those shoes were needed for; sometimes even in those few seconds it takes for you to say “Hurry up, everybody; we’re late.” What’s even worse is that, in the midst all this confusion generated by the various accusations and indignant denials, the shoe thief will then put those same shoes back as if nothing had ever happened; in fact, nine times out of ten he will put them back in the very place your children have already looked, including: pushed under the bed, dangling off of the swing set and on the neighbor’s porch. Yes, they looked there, and no, they’re sure they weren’t there before. Why? Because they looked there; they looked everywhere. Just now. During the commercial. Not that commercial, the other one. Yes. Everywhere.

When you think about it, that’s really quite impressive: everywhere is a lot of ground to cover, especially during a thirty second commercial break. But, then again, who am I to be so suspicious and doubtful? For all I know they are using some sort of super secret astral travel device that allows them to search other dimensions and universes in the blink of an eye. Still, even with the benefit of astral travel it would be quite impressive for them to manage a search of absolutely everywhere in the aforementioned thirty seconds, especially since, from my perspective, it appears as if they are really only searching three places: the TV screen; the air directly between their eyeballs and the TV screen; and perhaps (although I’m not sure) a spot somewhere just behind the TV screen.

The funny thing about everywhere is that it somehow never manages to contain the one spot where the item is actually located, like the bathroom floor. This is true for every item that my children have ever looked everywhere for; in fact, there are so many different items that seem to fall outside the purview of everywhere (homework, violins, glasses, other people’s car keys) that I’d be a little surprised if anything at all ever was found anywhere in everywhere. Although, to be fair I must point out that perhaps everywhere is already so full up with items missing from other peoples’ searches of everywhere (like Osama bin Laden, O.J’s “real killers” and G.W.’s WMDs) that, conceivably, not one thing more will fit in there, least of all an enormous pile of my children’s stolen shoes.

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Peter Piper Hell

I live in a house with two males: one tall, one short. This means that I spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning pee off of the toilet. “Pee up high, pee down low. Pee on the rim, pee in the bowl.” (Dr Seuss: The Lost Years). Doing all of this pee-wiping gives me time to think; unfortunately, what I usually end up thinking about is how much I hate wiping up pee, and whether or not doing so is actually the worst job in the entire world. During my most recent clean-up, I had almost decided that, yes, it was (how do they get it behind the toilet?), when suddenly I remembered something that happened last Fall, and I realized, happily, that cleaning up pee isn’t the worst job in the world–working at Peter Piper Pizza is. Or rather–working at any Peter Piper Pizza near my kids, is.

I don’t know how I could have forgotten this fact, especially since the last time we went to Peter Piper Pizza was such a memorable experience that I am surprised even my inverted “cleaning pee off of the back underside of the toilet” position (known in yoga as “Downward Facing Mom”) would allow it to slip my mind for one single minute.

Somehow, it seems, it came to pass that, through the unhappy confluence of a prearranged sleepover and an unexpected accident, I ended up being the sole “responsible” adult in charge of five children at Peter Piper Pizza. (I know: those of you with five or more children of your own will scoff at this, but remember that you have the advantage of having had your children one by one; like the Athenian youth who practiced lifting a growing calf each day until, eventually, he could heft a full-size ox, you have trained for this event. I, on the other hand, with my measly two children, have not; hence, for me this was the equivalent of having a full grown bull dropped into my waiting arms.)

To compensate for the fact that my charges had me totally outnumbered I resorted to a trick that every parent is aware of, but no child-rearing book ever mentions: bribery. First it was the pizza, and then, when that no longer entertained them (about thirty seconds after the pizza arrived), it was cold hard cash: every time the natives started to get a little restless I would pull another twenty out of my purse and buy yet another round of game tokens. In no time at all this largesse on my part–coupled with the fact that, in exasperation at their pitifully low Skeeball scores I finally got up and showed them how to cheat (what are they teaching our kids in school these days, anyway?)–meant that by the end of the evening there was a pile of tickets on the table taller than Kip’s nachos. Which meant that before we could leave we would have to redeem these tickets for prizes. Which is where the Worst Job in the World comes in.

My only hope for a karmically decent future life lies in my firm belief that the girl behind the prize booth counter at Peter Piper Pizza had just come back from an extended “smoke” break in the back of a VW bus; otherwise, I am sure that the hell this group of children put her through will condemn me to being reincarnated as Paris Hilton’s purse dog. Here’s how it went:

PPP Girl: “You have 761 tickets.”

Children: (45 second group consultation) “We’ll have a piece of bubblegum.”

PPP Girl: “You have 759 tickets.”

Children: (another 45 second committee meeting) “We’ll have another piece of gum.”

PPP Girl: “You have 757 tickets.”

And so on. For twenty-five freakin’ minutes. At first I found myself wishing that I’d brought a book to read, but towards the end I was wishing I had instead brought pencil and paper–by the time they had picked out thirty pieces of bubblegum, 9 sugar straws, 3 Styrofoam gliders, 1 candy watch and 5 pieces of plastic “bling” I could have written my own book. Maybe even a book on something useful, like, perhaps: how to fix a busted Skeeball machine.

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There was an article recently in one of those fluffy “magazine” inserts they put into the Sunday paper that was bemoaning the terrible increase of “clutter” in our lives; according to this article, the clutter we surround ourselves with mirrors the obesity of our bodies: both are just examples of “too much in, not enough out”.While I’m not entirely sold on the analogy (at least when your judgement fails you in Target you can always go back the next day and return the karaoke machine; donuts, however, are like special occasion dresses: once you walk out of the store with them, they are yours–and your hips’–for life), there was one part of the article that really did resonate with me: the part where clutter and “clutterers” were rated numerically according to their severity (kind of like hurricanes).

According to this scale, Level One clutter would be something like a newspaper on the bathroom floor, whereas Level Five clutter would be when you have to start using the backyard as a bathroom because of all the newspapers blocking the way to the toilet. Clutterers themselves were rated in much the same way; unlike clutter, however, their ratings were somewhat fluid: a person could easily start life as a Level One clutterer and then, without warning, swiftly make the transition to Level Five.

As the mother of a child who owns wall to wall collections of “collections” (scraps of paper, shorn Barbie doll hair and other people’s socks, just to name a few), this did not come as good news.

My daughter, Clementine, has always been a clutterer: she was practically born a Level Three (I’m surprised she didn’t try and keep the placenta), and has done nothing but deteriorate since then; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she was most of the way towards the dreaded Level Five already.

I used to say that it was like living with Howard Hughes, and joke that someday we would go into her room and find shelves covered with urine-filled jars and toenail clippings, but lately I’ve realized that this was simply wishful thinking on my part: Clementine has never voluntarily put anything up on a shelf in her life.

Not that she hasn’t had plenty of opportunity; she has an abundance of shelves–all empty, all the time. She also has plenty of clear plastic storage boxes. I bought these for her thinking that perhaps the real problem was a lack of organizational space, and not a complete and utter lack of concern over floors that go “crunch” when you walk on them. Needless to say, on this, too, I was wrong.

Unlike the shelves, though, at least her boxes sometimes actually get used; unfortunately, this use usually occurs during those times when I insist (read: scream, threaten, cajole, beg and demand) that she “clean up her room”. I say “unfortunately” because Clementine approaches these boxes the same way New York City approaches its landfills: fill ‘em up and move on to the next one. The first few times she did this the subterfuge actually worked: glancing around the apparently newly “cleaned” room I somehow failed to notice that the boxes contained, not “Legos”; “puzzles”; “Barbie clothes” and “art supplies” as their labels indicated, but rather exactly one shovelful each off of the floor. This meant that a box opened at random was just as likely to carry: one (dirty) pair of underwear; three extremely urgent notes from her teacher (dated last month); two stuffed animals and one half-eaten apple as it was to carry any of the items carefully listed on its front. In fact, with Clementine’s method, it seemed to become even less likely that the item mentioned on the outside of the box would actually be found on the inside of it, sort of like a grade school (and PETA friendly) rebuttal of Shrodinger’s cat.

Which reminds me: speaking of quantum physics (I was), some people will try and tell you that chaos like Clementine’s merely indicate intense inner activity. Einstein, they will assert, never worried about keeping a clean desk. This may be true, but I’m almost positive that Einstein’s desk never went “crunch” when he sat at it.

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