Monthly Archives: June 2006


It starts in the afternoon.

“I’m starving” says Clementine. “When’s dinner?”

“Dinner?” I reply. “It’s 4:30 in the afternoon–what are you, ninety?”

“No–I’m starving.”

“Have an apple.”

Clementine eyes the proffered apple with a suspicion not seen since the Garden of Eden, and responds with, “No, I want something that tastes good.”

“Then you’re certainly not starving; you’re not even hungry. Go away.”

“But I am hungry; I’m starving.”

And suddenly I find myself in a dilemma: the part of me that is a mother is annoyed that Clementine is pestering me for dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon; the part of me that is a writer, however, is annoyed at her poor word choice. Couldn’t she have found a word with a little more pizzaz than starving? For a word like famished I might have gotten out of my seat; peckish would have probably sent me all the way to the kitchen. But starving? What a bore.

For a brief moment the writer and the mother tussle over who has jurisdiction, then decide to compromise on a joint lecture involving the proper use of the word starving and the proper appreciation for the food we have. Both sides agree to make it a long, tedious discussion involving the unfortunate Donner party, South American soccer teams, and eating your own shoes; there will also be brief segues into leather versus manmade materials and the inadvisability of either taking shortcuts on the advice of strange men in Salt Lake City or picking your charter pilot based on price alone. This means that by the time I am finished it actually is time to start dinner, which is good, because all of my lecturing about cannibalism seems to have had an unforeseen effect: Clementine is looking at me as if maybe the idea of eating people isn’t so bad after all–at least then I would no longer be able to give lectures on the proper use of starving–or worse yet, on my other bugaboo: there’s nothing to eat.

Of the two, I must say that the there’s nothing to eat whine is the slightly more annoying: whereas I’m starving usually just follows a bit of vaguely entertaining melodrama of the sort perfected by listless 19th century consumptive heroines, there’s nothing to eat usually follows an exhaustive, yet maddeningly fruitless search through the cupboard and fridge. (Maddening because we’re not talking about the cupboard and fridge of some crack house here, where the only things to be found are the canned candied yams left over from the Thanksgiving food box and half a pack of AAA pager batteries, but my cupboard and fridge, both of which are usually so overstocked with food that it’s sometimes hard to get the doors to close.)

I once read a story about a little girl left home alone for days who somehow survived by eating the condiments out of the fridge: heaven forbid anything similar should happen at my house; not only do I not think my picky children would survive, I have serious reservations about my husband’s ability to pull through as well–he is as guilty as all of the rest of standing in front of a bulging cupboard and chanting the there’s nothing to eat mantra. (By eat, of course, they are all referring to something that can go from cabinet to mouth in under three seconds.)

Maybe I should make it easy for them and start stocking the fridge with nothing but old shoes and Uruguayan soccer players–at least then when they say they’re starving and there’s nothing to eat they’ll be right on both counts.

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Wash ‘n’ Not Wear

Of all the things I complain about in the world of housekeeping, laundry has never been one of them. In this I know that I am slightly unusual–cavils about the horrors of the laundry pile; husbands never leaving the couch; and never having enough time in the day are all supposed to be staples of “domestic wit”. The truth is, though, there’s always enough time for the things we really want to do (how many time-starved individuals do you know who can still give you an up-to-date recap of the latest installation of Lost or 24?); the husband-on-the-couch bit hasn’t been funny since Dagwood was a boy; and any laundry day that doesn’t involve loading the laundry onto a car/bike/backpack and schlepping it, along with several bored children, down to the local Laundromat (where, inevitably you will arrive just after either the woman who has come in from the reservation with a literal truckload of her family’s wash, or a college freshman with such highly advanced OCD that he must–must!–dry all of his clothes separately in individual dryers before folding them with military precision) qualifies as a good laundry day.

As you can see, the horrors of the Laundromat are still fresh enough for me that, far from being overwhelmed by laundry duty these days, I treat it as another chance to give my beloved washing machine a little love pat and reflect on all of those poor people sitting on hard plastic chairs watching their clothes spin ‘round and ‘round.

However, having said all that, I must admit that there is one aspect of laundry duty that I despise, and one that, until I had children, I didn’t even know existed: the concept of laundry as maid service. This is the phenomenon whereby, instead of either: hanging up the clothes that have managed to slither off of their hangers; re-stowing the ones that have inadvertently “sprung free” of their drawer or even putting away that pile of freshly laundered, neatly folded clothes your mother just handed you, you instead simply dump all of the aforementioned clothes back into the laundry basket, thereby affording yourself a few days grace before those particular items must be faced again. (The best part of this trick is that it can be performed over and over–or at least until your mother finally catches on–whichever comes first.)

It took me a long time to figure this one out; sure, I noticed that I was washing the same clothes over and over again every week, but since I’m the type of person who gets a favorite pair of pants and then literally “wears them out”, this didn’t seem so peculiar to me. It was only when I noticed that none of the clothes I was washing ever seemed to make an appearance on the child in question that I got suspicious; that and the fact that Clementine slipped up once and forgot to throw the clothes on her floor and trample them first: even I will notice a pile of folded clothes in the laundry. The clincher, though, came when I pulled a pair of pants out of the dryer that still had their price tag attached.

I’m not saying that my Clementine is above pulling her own “Minnie Pearl”; however, considering that this is the same child who once refused to wear any t-shirts from which the label hadn’t been meticulously removed, I think the chances of her actually wearing a pair of pants with a tiny plastic spear in the waistband are slim to none.

Of course, after I found the incriminating pants I was tempted to make her wear them that way all the time as a lesson, but then I decided on a better method: next laundry day I think I’ll let her do the honors–at a Laundromat conveniently located halfway between the university and the reservation.

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I never thought that I would end up as a soccer Mom: not only do I have a hatred of driving that borders on the pathological (hence, no minivan), I also am incapable of providing anyone–let alone my children–with a pair of matching socks, something which, in the soccer world they seem to be particularly insistent upon; not only do they want matching socks, but matching soccer socks to boot. (Personally, I consider any day that my kids show up for school and/or day care with their feet encased in something other than duct tape and brown paper bags to be a roaring success.) However, mini-vans and matching socks notwithstanding; the truth is that once my kids got old enough to make the request, we, too, joined the hordes at the local soccer field. Which is where I first realized that the thing I should really have been worrying about all along was not the socks, but the snacks.

It wasn’t long after Clementine first started playing that I discovered Micro Soccer’s dirty little secret: the whole thing is actually a front set up by the juice box and cereal bar companies to move more product. It’s true, and although I’ve never actually seen the head of Micro driving around in a new car courtesy of Capri-Sun, such a sight wouldn’t surprise me in the least, just like it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the entire Micro Soccer staff had just returned from an all-expenses paid junket “touring” the granola bar producing regions of southern France.

Luckily, with Clementine, we were able to get off the wheel of snack destiny by promising her that if she quit Micro we would buy her all the juice boxes she could ever drink, and then using our parental perquisites to renege on the deal. (Oh, come on–it’s not like she was enjoying it: she spent every game rolling around on the sidelines crying at the mere thought of having to touch the ball–until snack time, that is, when she would be magically revived). With her little brother Clyde, however, this is no longer an option: he actually likes to play.

Not that that precludes him from thinking constantly about the snacks, a trait he seems to share with every other member of his team: during an average thirty minute game the parent who has brought snack may have to hear “What’s for snack?” at least 130 million times before the end. In fact, the last time I was the “Snack Mom” I finally snapped and began responding with: “Pickled pig’s feet and Clamato, alright?” Unfortunately, very few five-year-olds have spent enough time in seedy bars to fully grasp the true horror of what I was saying, and so continued to pester me about their “pig snack”.

Clearly, though, the other Moms had (spent enough time in seedy bars), and no doubt began to wonder whether or not I was seriously going to poison their children. This gave me a great idea: what would happen if you brought a snack so horrible that no one would eat it? Would you be released from bringing snack for life, or would your turn repeat over and over again until you “got it right”? (Kind of like the Buddhist idea of returning over and over again to the wheel of suffering until you have learned life’s lessons).

And even assuming that banishment really was an option, how bad would the snack have to be? Although I have heard of teams that have forbidden a mother from bringing snack after she brought organic apple slices instead of Cheetos, I have a feeling that the mothers on Clyde’s team wouldn’t give me a pass for anything short of Skoal Bandits and double short shot macchiatos.

And I’ve heard that nothing will get tobacco stains out of a pair of soccer socks.

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Not too long ago I had the chance to appreciate my family from afar, which, as anybody who has ever had to share a bed with an incontinent four-year-old can tell you, is the best possible way to appreciate them. One night, after I had been gone for several days, I was talking to my daughter, Clementine, on the phone. I don’t know what I was expecting from her–maybe: “I miss you”; “When are you coming home?”; or even, “Don’t forget to bring me a present”–instead, what I got (as my husband held the phone to her ear and tried to block her view of America’s Next Top Model long enough for her speak to me) was: “Could you, the next time you go to the store, get me some sunflower seeds? Thanks.”

At first I was confused: did she think I had gone to Kansas, or that maybe I was off trying out for the major leagues? She couldn’t really be burning up the long distance lines with her snack requests–could she? As it turns out, yes, she could; any doubts I may have had on that score were removed after I gently reminded her that at that moment I was approximately 1400 miles away from our local Bashas’ and she replied with: “Yeah, get the ones out of the shell.” And then she hung up.

I don’t know why it was surprising to me that I could be gone from the house for three days without her noticing my absence; after all, as far as I can tell she has never fully recognized my presence. Although, it’s not so much that she doesn’t recognize my existence: the sunflower seed request proves that she is aware, at least on some level, of that. What is, in fact, in doubt is my visibility: to Clementine I am largely invisible. (Yes, I realize that in this she is no different from any other nine-year-old, but being completely normal doesn’t take away from invisibility’s sting.)

I can’t say for sure when exactly it was that I turned invisible (although I know that if Clementine was asked she would insist it happened that time I was driving her and her friends to the movies and started singing along to Prince’s “Kiss”–complete with all the kissing sound effects). I was fairly sure, however, that my status was somewhat in limbo after the third time she changed the channel from Law & Order to Ugly Duckling without even an “oh, were you watching that?”; or maybe it was after the fifth time she set her empty cereal bowl down on top of the paper I was trying to read. By the time she led her first group tour through the bathroom while I was still on the toilet, my position as a non-entity was confirmed.

Not that my life on an alternate plane of existence is all bad: sometimes my invisibility pays off, like when I’m driving her and her friends somewhere and I hear her talking from the backseat. “Remember how we broke all of those dishes last night and then blamed my brother, and my mom believed us and punished him instead? That was great.” Or when she tries to sneak contraband cheetos past me and into her room while I’m sitting two feet away on the couch.

In my more romantic moments I could feel like I’m the Patrick Swayze character in Ghost, always lovingly present but never seen. In my less romantic moments I still feel like a character in Ghost, only it’s the annoying one played by Whoopi Goldberg. The one who Demi Moore, by dint of sheer willpower, manages to ignore for most of the movie; except maybe for those times when Demi needs someone to run out to the store to pick up some sunflower seeds–the ones out of the shell.

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