Monthly Archives: May 2006


I am a planner–obsessively so: I am the only person I know who gets laughed at by people in the travel industry because I make my reservations so very, very, early. In fact, we have one vacation in the works for next summer that I made the original reservations for in 2002 (to their credit, the folks at this particular travel firm did not laugh at me; their attitude was more along the lines of “sure, we’ll take your money–freak”).

My husband, however, is not a planner; in fact, if there was a word for someone who flat out refuses to plan for the future (besides, of course, Republican), I’m sure that he would have business cards printed up with his name followed by that very word on them. Sometimes I swear he’s just one dreadlock away from sitting in the park singing “Jah provide the bread”: in his universe, everything always “just works out”; there is no need to “get all worked up” about minor details like hotel reservations and driving directions printed off of Mapblast because, “hey, everything always turns out ok in the end, doesn’t it?” (Oh, sure: the fact that I am there clutching my three ring binder full of confirmation numbers has nothing to do with that at all.)

So it was with a certain amount of perverse satisfaction that I heard the details of a recent camping trip he took with our two children while I was out of town at a writer’s conference, especially the parts where the trip, amazingly enough (to him), did not quite “all work out”.

To me, camping trips involve planning to the nth degree: the food requirements alone can require more strategizing than Napoleon’s push into Russia; this is because, unlike my children, Napoleon’s soldiers were willing to eat something other than chicken strips and Yoplait Custard-Style Vanilla yogurt (generic imposters need not apply).

Then there is the clothing: hopefully, Napoleon’s soldiers had enough sense not to fall into the creek more than a half a dozen times each on their campaoign stops, and therefore could travel without first having their mother pack them no less than seven changes of clothing per night. My children, however, are not so gifted.

Knowing all this, it was not surprising to me that the first planning faux pas involved dinner: spaghetti. Now, for my kids noodles are usually a sure thing; on this night, however, they failed to satisfy: it seems that no one had planned on bringing any bowls. Or forks.

Next came the small matter of the tent. We have two tents: one is a small two man tent from our “pre-children” days, while the other is a tent approximately the size and weight of a circus tent. We usually take the latter, and fill it (see above: seven changes of clothing per night). On this trip, however, my husband decided to bring the two man tent, using the theorem that 1 adult + 2 children=2 adults. This theorem would probably work quite well if you were placing the 1 adult and 2 children into a bag and preparing “Shake-n-Bake”; as a method for determining how many people can fit into a tent, however–not so much.

Needless to say, between the non-dinner and the non-sleeping the camping trip ended early–about 14 hours early (they were back home before dark, having stopped at Burger King for dinner on the way). Hearing all this on my return, I couldn’t help but try and turn the whole thing into a “teachable moment”: expecting a long, drawn out tale of woe, I casually asked Clementine how her “camping trip” had gone. “It was great,” she replied. “We got to sleep in our own beds and Daddy took us to Burger King for dinner! You know,” she added thoughtfully, “Daddy’s right: everything does always work out in the end.”

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Born to Pee

My son, Clyde, loves being a boy. He loves to laugh at people whenever they fall down and hurt themselves (including himself), he loves eating the last slice of cold pizza while standing in front of the refrigerator, and he loves to watch TV in his underwear. But most of all, he loves being able to pee standing up.

He is almost five now, but to him the novelty and joy of this act never fails to amaze and delight him. “Come look!” he’ll command from the bathroom, and I’ll troop in just in time to see him standing in his evening bath, peeing into the cup we keep next the sink for rinsing. “I peed in the cup!” “Great, Clyde, um, thanks,” I’ll say, taking the warm cup from him and emptying it into the toilet. (What else could I say? After all, the whole cup thing is kind of my fault: I’m the one who–after watching him pee into his freshly drawn bath before stepping into it one night–pointed out to him at great length the inherent flaw in this system; the fact that he now pees in a cup instead of the bath shows me that at least he was listening. And besides, it’s not like I brush my teeth in that bathroom.)

He also enjoys peeing in tandem: if another male in the house is using the toilet, Clyde is always willing to sidle up next to them and have a go. (This, too, can only be seen as an improvement, since he also used to display this same enthusiasm with females as well.) And, of course, just like every male I have ever known (or driven, walked, or ridden by), Clyde loves to pee in the great outdoors.

In fact, he loves to do this so much that, like a sinner who has just found salvation, Clyde will “witness” this joy to others. (“Have you heard the good news? Peeing outside is great!”) He is willing to bring his message to just about anyone, but lately, the one he has been preaching to the most has been the little boy who lives down the street. (In this, too, I guess charity begins at home.) Of course, it wasn’t exactly a hard sell: no sooner had our two-year-old neighbor, Mision, seen the blissful expression on Clyde’s face as Clyde “watered the flowers” in the front yard then he was stripping off his diaper, eager to join in the fun. Unfortunately for all concerned, Clyde was just as eager to teach him, because that is where things started to get tricky.

There are all kinds of teachers: some believe in learning by rote while others in teaching by example; Clyde, unfortunately, is neither of those. Clyde believes in taking the “hands-on” approach, and, reaching over to Mision, that’s exactly what he did.

As you can well imagine, this led to a certain amount of awkwardness between Mision’s mother and myself, the sort of awkwardness that, had we too been male, could only have been covered up by some serious sports talk. In this case, however, I covered it up by shouting out words that I never thought I would hear coming out of my mouth.

Although by the time Clyde was born I already knew that there would be times when I would have to betray my inner thirteen-year-old by saying the kinds of things I had sworn never to say–things like: “Because I said so”; “Just one bite”; and “No, we can’t order pizza for dinner again”; never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would one day be shouting out the words: “Everybody keep their own hands on their own penises!”

Of course, I also never thought I would have to pay such close attention to the glass I used when I brushed my teeth, either.

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There was an article in the newspaper recently lamenting the fact that, by the time most felonious parents are released from prison, they will be facing an almost insurmountable technology gap: unlike their children, most of these ex-cons will have no idea how to use an iPod, a Blackberry, or even a cell phone, which will necessarily make reestablishing any sort of respectful relationship with their children difficult at best.

To me, this was quite disturbing: if being able to operate an iPod, Blackberry, or cell phone is what it takes to gain my children’s respect then I might as well just start running red lights and writing hot checks now, because I’m hopeless. Forget even iPods and Blackberries: the last time I tried to use a friend’s cell phone I ended up handing the whole thing back in disgust, saying, “Never mind: I guess I didn’t really need to find out about those lab results today after all.”

It’s especially embarrassing because I don’t even have ten year’s incarceration as an excuse (unless you count nearly ten years of motherhood, which sometimes I do: sometimes, in fact, I consider it to be time served of the hardest sort). On the contrary, in the world of technological ignorance motherhood is clearly no excuse: there’s plenty of soccer moms out there who can dial a cell phone, record little Alexis’s playdate with Cheyanne in their Blackberry and listen to the latest Rush Limbaugh podcast all at the same time (and, who, frequently it seems, do so while attempting to merge their Cadillac Valdez in front of my cowering Suburu). So what is my excuse? While there are, as always, many deep-seated and piercing psychological issues that could easily be blamed for my technophobia, by far the most compelling one is this: I’m terribly, terribly cheap.

That’s it. Even though I’d like to claim some kind of forward-thinking, back-to-the-Earth, live-simply-so-that-others-may-simply-live philosophy behind my Luddite ways, the hard truth is that I’m just plain cheap. My house is free of cable TV not because “my children shall never be sullied by crass commercialism”, but because I can’t bear the thought of parting with hard earned money just to watch TV. It’s the same reason that I refuse to buy video and computer games: although I’d like to be able to say it’s because they’re too violent; it’s really the violence they will do to my wallet that has me afraid.

The odd thing is, my own childhood was exactly the opposite: growing up, my stepfather would always run out and buy the latest gadget, no matter how expensive or untested it was: we were the first ones on the block with a “microwave oven” (it had two features: “on” and “not on”); the first ones to have a “car phone” (it came with its own suitcase); and, naturally, the first ones to have a VCR (Beta, of course).

Who knows, though? Maybe it was living with all of those crappy, first run electronics that put the fear of purchasing into me in the first place: it’s true that every time I think about buying them my inner child starts in–“What? Don’t you remember trying to rent a movie in the “Beta” section of the video store when all they had left was Smokey and the Bandit IV, Ode to Billy Joe and Arthur Returns?”–until once again I’m unable to complete the major purchase of a piece of technology.

If you look at it that way, it’s almost as if I’m doing my kids a favor by not exposing them to the fabulous world of modern electronics at a young age; at least now they won’t have to experience shoppus interruptus like I do every time I go to buy a new stereo. Plus, they won’t feel so left out the next time they’re in jail.

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Water, Water

Summer is almost here: I can tell by the way I can open the gas bill without first having to pour myself a drink; by the way Clyde’s foot injuries start bleeding immediately (as opposed to twenty minutes after his foot finally thaws out–our little Jethro don’t much cotton to shoes); and, of course, by the way the water glasses start sprouting from every moderately flat surface in our house like mushrooms.

Remember that scene in Signs, the Mel Gibson movie about alien invaders, where the little girl has left half-drunk glasses of water all over the house? And how it just so happens that the aliens hate water, allowing Joaquin Phoenix to get the upper hand on the evil, creepy alien guy by smashing all of the water glasses right next to Mr. Creepy Alien? And how, in the end, old Mel is actually glad his daughter had this weird water fetish, because it ended up being one of the things that helped them survive? Yeah, well, good for Mel Gibson and all that, but if creepy aliens ever invaded my house they might as well start picking out their new colors, because, when it comes to the drinking glass diaspora, I don’t have even a tenth of Mel’s patience.

It must be hereditary: as I recall, growing up in Phoenix I was never allowed to hold an actual drinking glass in my hands until I was a teenager; before that it was Dixie cups kept in a special dispenser by the kitchen sink. Given the heat of the Phoenix summers, you would think that Dixie cups would’ve been the perfect solution to the problem of vast packs of thirsty children roaming the neighborhood. And you would’ve been right–if it hadn’t been that Phoenix was so hot; and Dixie cups so small that trying to get enough water in the middle of a pack of thirsty, jostling kids was like trying to put out a forest fire with a water pistol.

Speaking of water pistols: as I remember, the worst side effect of having a scrum of children and Dixie cups gathered ‘round the kitchen sink was that “super-soaked” was how everybody ended up, along with the floor, the wall, and anything else in a twelve foot arc around the faucet. That’s one of the reasons why, when my children got old enough to get their own water I forewent the Dixie cup route entirely and instead went traditional (traditional hillbilly, that is), and started my own personal jelly jar drinking glass collection. It took a little time, but by virtue of hard work, perseverance, and some serious PB&J consumption, by the time my kids could finally reach the kitchen sink we had enough drinking “glasses” for everyone in the entire neighborhood; unfortunately, this meant that the first sign of hot weather left my house looking like it had been made over into Early American Marmalade.

They were everywhere: in clusters around the couch, on every square inch of night stand, and lined up on window sills like beer bottles in a freshman dorm. The worst part was that not one of them was ever empty; in fact, most of them had so little water missing that it was hard to tell the difference between a glass that has been drunk from and one that had simply succumbed to the natural processes of evaporation.

Because of our current drought situation, I am hesitant to pour any of the water out; however, my first two solutions–drinking the water myself and pouring it on the houseplants–ended up with me confined to the bathroom and the plants turning yellow and dying (come to think of it, that’s how I felt, too). Once again, maybe my mother was right after all; maybe Dixie cups are the way to go. It’s either that, or pray for an alien invasion.


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Glow Bagel

Way back in my college days, one of my room-mates brought home a bagel from Safeway. It was marked as “day-old”, but unless the person in charge of marking things down counted days the same way some fundamentalists do when they assert that the Earth was created in seven days (with each day corresponding nicely to modern geological time periods of hundreds of millions of years), this bagel hadn’t been “day-old” since time was measured by sundials.

The first clue as to this bagel’s geriatric state came when we tried to cut it in half and it shot out from under the knife and made a dent in the drywall. The next came when someone tried to take a bite out of it and nearly lost a tooth. (We were college students, not college graduates.) At this point the bagel ceased to interest me as a food item, but did interest me immensely as a piece of art; kind of a “non-functioning functional” piece of performance art, one that, despite the promise shown by its first graceful flight across the room, didn’t really perform.

No matter: so enchanted was I with my miraculous new find that I painted it with glow in the dark poster paint and mounted it on permanent display in our living room (ok, so I used the convenient hole in its middle to hang it on a pre-existing nail in the wall). There it remained for over a year, until the time came for me to move; of course I packed up the Sacred Glow Bagel (or, SGB, as it had come to be known) and took it with me to my next house. And the next. Eventually I got to the point where the SGB was the first item I moved into a new abode, the same way Christians will first move their crucifix, or Jews their mezuzah. (Admittedly I didn’t actually worship the Sacred Glow Bagel; but I did think that it was a pretty good joke, which, for me, is as close as anything ever gets to religion.)

Fast forward twenty years or so. The Sacred Glow Bagel, like so many other precious and irreplaceable items, is now lost to history, (along with some other not-so-precious and easily replaceable items, like all three of my copies of Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty), and yet, somehow, the spirit of the SGB lives on. Unfortunately, where it lives on is in my children.

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow my children managed to inherit my ability to hold on to perishable items long after they should have perished, but not my ability to see these items as the kitschy works of folk art that they are–to them, they are just another legitimate building block in the healthy food pyramid.

Even for a housekeeper like myself, who is relaxed to the point of slovenliness, there is just something about watching your son come strolling out of his room eating a piece of pizza when you know for a fact that you haven’t had pizza in over two weeks. Or watching your daughter pull a fuzzy Christmas cookie out her pocket and eat it. In June. I’d say that it was like watching squirrels put away acorns for the winter, except for the fact that the squirrels’ actions fill an ecological niche: what niche can possibly be filled by secreting Easter Peeps in your sock drawer until November? (And don’t say it’s for the ants–even an ant has more sense than to eat something that has been in close contact with one of my children’s socks.)

If this keeps up I fully expect to come down to breakfast one day and find my children gnawing, rat-like, on the newly rediscovered SGB. Actually, that’s probably the best case scenario; I’ll probably wake up to find them listening to Jackson Browne.

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