Monthly Archives: August 2006


For some people, tracing their family’s roots means a nostalgic visit to the “old country”, complete with a donkey cart ride down a rustically rutted byway to a quaint little village by the sea where boisterous young men will serenade them with incomprehensible folk songs while wrinkled old women ply them with homemade plum brandy and freshly baked pastries. For my little family, however, tracing our family’s roots is a whole lot simpler: a trip to the local Circle K will suffice. This is because, despite all of my romantic wishes to the contrary, our ancestors are white trash.

I’d like to blame my husband’s family for this: after all, the branches of his family tree are filled with enough names like “Bubba” and “Uncle Skinny” to populate an entire Jeff Foxworthy Christmas special. Not only that, but some of their actions could qualify for the punch line in one of Foxworthy’s joke: “Have you ever lost more than one finger while working at the pickle relish plant? You may be a redneck.”

Unfortunately, however, my family’s tree grows just as close to the trailer park as his does: our personal entry into the Foxworthy lineup would be something along the lines of: “Has anyone in your family ever chopped off the head of their spouse with an axe–and gotten away with it? They may be a redneck (and a scary, Deliverance-style one at that).” (In my relative’s defense, he did claim that he was only trying to chop down his wife’s door to warn her that their boat was on fire; how was he supposed to know she would choose that most inopportune of moments to put her ear to the door to try and figure out “what all of the ruckus was about”?)

With family like that, you could almost argue that when Clementine and I went tubing down the Salt River this past July we were not only engaging in mindless hedonism; we were exploring our heritage. And evidence of our “heritage” was never far from hand: despite the fact that the people we were surrounded with represented a wide range of ethnicities it soon became obvious that–no matter what their color– every single one of them clearly qualified as “white trash”. There were the ones falling off of their tubes without spilling so much as a drop of MGD; the ones jumping off of cliffs heads first into dark waters of uncertain depths; the ones performing impromptu strip teases on the tops of a 64 quart coolers; and, of course, the ones vomiting copiously down the sides of their own and others’ inner tubes. All were different, and yet all were disturbingly (and familiarly) the same. It was a little like getting a suntan and diversity training all at once: no matter what color, race, or creed someone was, when it came time to vomit, they all looked the same.

It was so much like a white trash family reunion, in fact, that at the end of the day, as we watched a man dragging his nearly comatose girlfriend (butt still planted firmly in the middle of her tube) up the rocky hill to the shuttle bus, I was inspired to turn to Clementine, spread my arms wide and say: “Look around you: these are your people.”

True, there weren’t any donkey carts; but there were plenty of jackasses. And while the boisterous young mens’ songs weren’t nearly as incomprehensible as I would have liked, and the wrinkled old women were actually middle-aged biker chicks who had unfortunately misspent their youth applying Bain du Soleil where SPF 45 would have served them better, I knew in my heart of hearts that Clementine and I would never come any closer than this to returning to the “auld sod”. Maybe next time I’ll get her a commemorative Big Gulp to celebrate.

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World Cup

Because no sports team can survive without its loyal cadre of superstitious fans, during this past summer’s World Cup I decided that it was imperative for me to watch all of France’s World Cup matches at downtown’s Pay’n’Take; if I didn’t, they would lose. (Oh yeah, and I also had to drink at least three beers). Thanks, no doubt, to these very difficult sacrifices on my part, France won. Mostly. Right up until the very end.

I am a latecomer to the world of soccer fandom: in fact, it wasn’t until the finals, when a man sitting next to me patiently explained it, that I finally began to get a grip on the offsides rule (and a tenuous one at that–even now it’s starting to fade–wait a minute–there it goes). And furthermore, I’ll admit that my support of France was based more on their team captain, Zinedine Zidane, than it was on any understanding of their past performances. (I wanted to show my support of a fellow geriatric: the 34 year old player was described as “old” so often I half expected him to come out on the pitch pushing a walker.)

So what caused my sudden interest in the game? Simple: after watching my own kids play soccer for several years now, I finally felt an urge to just once see how the game is meant to be played.

It was quite an eye-opener: as someone who has heretofore only seen soccer games played by the preschool set, it was quite a surprise for me to find out that, in a real game, play does not stop because a butterfly crosses the field–even a big, pretty, yellow one. I was also surprised to discover that individual players do not stop in the middle of a drive to pick their nose, contemplate a really neat cloud formation, or yell at their sister for playing with their Power Rangers. They also do not lie down on the field or sidelines and refuse to move another inch until they are told who brought snack, what snack is, and whether or not there will be enough snack for everyone. Furthermore, I did not see even one mother standing on the sidelines holding a box of Dora the Explorer fruit chews and a case of juice boxes; nor did I see any mothers running out onto the field to adjust shin guards, tie shoe laces, and (heaven forbid), realign athletic cups.

The whole thing was so impressive, in fact, that I decided it would be a good idea to take my son, Clyde, with me to watch the final between France and Italy–maybe, I thought, he could pick up a few pointers, even if they turned out to be something as simple as: “chase the ball, not the butterfly”. Really though, what I mostly wanted him to see was how hard and how fast the players ran (even without the threat of “no snack”), and how their coach never once had to tell them to get off of the swing set and back onto the field.

And so it was that Clyde came with me to the Pay’n’Take to learn the fine art of futbal. Or at least, that was the plan. Unfortunately, much like my original plan–where only my steady beer consumption could assure France of victory–this plan too went awry.

Perhaps not uncoincidentally, both plans were thwarted by the same thing: the head butt felt ‘round the world. As Zidane was ushered out of the stadium I realized that not only had France lost, but, judging by the look of astonishment and delight on Clyde’s face, Clyde had also picked up more than a few “simple” pointers. In fact, I had the sinking realization that chasing butterflies during the game would soon seem like an idyllic memory–and that Micro Soccer might never be the same again.

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I am a firm believer in hand-me-downs; if it were possible, I myself would dress in nothing but cast-offs, thereby eliminating the need for me ever to enter a fluorescently lit dressing room again. Unfortunately, however, most of the people I know have either stopped growing (taller), or are, like me, essentially cheapskates, and will wear their clothing down to the last threads. My children, though, are much luckier in this regard: they are on the receiving end of so many different hand-me-down chains, and receive so many new outfits each month, that frequently I have trouble recognizing them in a crowd. (Or maybe they’re just hiding from me).

Clementine, at nine, is old enough to exercise some discretion in her acceptance of the hand-me-down largesse: she will sort through a newly arrived pile and manage to fling aside anything reeking of pinkness or ruffles quicker than you can say “Laura Ashley.” Clyde, on the other hand, at five, is not so lucky: he has only my (somewhat dormant) powers of discrimination to protect him from sartorial suffering, and oftentimes this is not enough. To me, if the shoe (pants, belt, hat, shirt, pajamas) fits, then wear it: style, color, and whether or not the Disney character on the front is from this decade or the last is immaterial. This, then, would explain how Clyde came to be practically in tears the last time we went swimming in Oak Creek: I had packed him a Speedo.

“But I want a boy swimming suit,” he said, staring aghast at the shiny blue banana hammock I had pulled out of our bag for him.

Knowing that any sign of sympathy would be seen as weakness on my part, and also knowing that displaying that weakness would inevitably put me on the slippery slope to driving him back home for another suit, I took the hard line approach and said, “Well, this is it. It’s either this or naked.” He eyed the various crawdads, minnows and water bugs circling the swimming hole (all of them clearly just waiting to try out Clyde’s wrinkled little pink “lure”), decided that discretion was much the better part of fashion, and wisely opted for the suit, soon forgetting about the horror of it all in the joy of yet another summer’s day spent falling into Oak Creek. I, however, had a much harder time getting over it.

There was just something sad about my little boy getting old enough to know the difference between “girl” suits and “boy suits” (or at least “European” and “American”). I could already see that the day was coming soon when he would no longer let his sister dress him up as a ballerina, or come home all prettied up after a hard afternoon playing “princess” with the little girl down the street. And my hopes for one member of our family to finally start shaving their legs? Dashed.

My husband, of course, did not take nearly so dim a view as I did. Although he was appalled that I had let Clyde walk around Oak Creek in a Speedo (“People will think we’re German!”), he was proud of his boy for putting up some resistance. In fact, I hadn’t seen him that choked up since last Halloween when Clyde decided he wasn’t going to be Dora the Explorer after all; he was going to be Spiderman.

Still, it’s not as if I’ve lost all hope of having a cross-dresser in the family: based on his proclivity to join any party, any time; his ability to regard most injuries (his own and others’) as marks of honor; and his love for all things wet, I’m thinking there’s got to be a career as a Grand Canyon boatman somewhere in his future.

I can’t wait until my husband sees him in his first wraparound skirt.

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When I first told my mother that we had decided on the name “Clementine” for our first child, her response was immediate: “Oh, no,” she said. “You can’t name her Clementine: when I was growing up we had an ironing lady named Clementine, and one time we caught her in the kitchen drinking Scotch and milk.” As you probably know by now, I didn’t take my mother’s advice; if anything, her story made me more determined than ever to name my daughter Clementine, or, as I told my mother, “You had me at Scotch.”

However, even though the Scotch and milk part has proven to be the most interesting part of the story, it has not (of yet) been the part that has been the most relevant; as enchanting as the whole idea of Scotch and milk is, the part that mattered was the ironing, because that is the part of the Clementine legacy that has come to haunt me.

I am not the ironing sort: so far I have never owned an iron in my life (unless of course you want to count the hot pink crimping iron I owned back in the eighties, but since that comes from the same era as Hairstyles-of-Which-We-Must-Not-Speak, I really don’t think it would be quite sporting of you to count it). I had hoped to never own one in the future, as well–but then Clementine joined he Girl Scouts.

Being a Girl Scout involves lots of things: learning fun, new skills; completing exciting projects; and going on interesting field trips–all of which, it seems, entitle the girl in question to a patch. An iron-on patch. At first it didn’t seem so bad: a patch here, a patch there–I just put them aside into a “to be done later” pile while I continued to encourage Clementine in her patch-earning spree; after all, earning patches is fun, isn’t it?

Eventually, however, Clementine began to notice that as the other girls’ vests started filling up with patch after patch, hers was still a barren wasteland frequented only by her lone (pin-on)star. After a meeting where the other mothers began to talk about ordering bigger vests so that they would have room for all of the patches, and where Clementine looked like a Quaker in a room full of Las Vegas showgirls, I finally decided it was time for me to bite the bullet: it was time for me to iron.

At this point, some people would have decided to buy an iron; I, on the other hand, decided to call up one of my friends with a real job: I figured that the same friend I had gone to for help in tying Clementine’s Gryffindor tie for her Hermione costume would probably also be the one most likely to own an iron. My theory was that while some of the boys were taken aside and shown how to get the motor oil out from underneath their fingernails with a pen knife, others (like my friend) were shown the dual arts of ironing and tie tying.

It turns out that I was correct. Unfortunately, however, I took the third career track: hanging out with the English teachers in the break room. This gave me no usable skills whatsoever–not mechanical, and not professional, which would explain how I managed to kill the iron.

Well, kind of explains it: it is a little hard to come up with a plausible explanation for someone with two degrees attempting to iron something sticky side up. The two degrees did, however, come in handy for figuring out that this was 1) not going to work and 2)was very, very bad for both irons and friendships.

Perhaps the Girl Scouts could update their friendship song to reflect this: “Make new friends, but keep the old–and don’t let Kelly Poe borrow your iron under any circumstances.”

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The other day I was at the pool with both my own children and several of the “spares” we always seem to collect, when one of the spares came up to me holding what I consider to be one of the most sinister items you can find at the pool: a pair of swim goggles.

“Would you fix my goggles?” he asked me.

Recoiling slightly from the proffered pair, I hissed: “I don’t do goggles,” as nicely as I could–which wasn’t very, considering that I was refusing to do something that every other mother at the pool had probably already done twenty times each that morning. This fact was not wasted on the child in front of me: looking around at all of the other goggle-fixing mothers, he gave me a baleful stare and again thrust the goggles under my nose, at which point I shrugged my shoulders and made a face as if to say “no-speaka-da-lingo” until he finally went away. This, of course, was all a lie: I know perfectly well what goggles are; if I didn’t, how could I hate them so thoroughly?

Well, that’s not exactly true, either: I don’t hate them; in fact, I even have my own pair that I use for lap swimming. What I hate, though, is everything that accompanies a pair of goggles: the constant losing, finding, fixing, adjusting, putting on and removing that is part and parcel of any pair of child’s goggles. In fact, each pair that is sold should come with a warning label that reads in part: Caution–please note that these goggles will consume at least thirty percent of your available time at the pool. Since there will be a further thirty percent lost to the application and reapplication of sun screen, as well as thirty percent dedicated solely to the inflation and retrieval of pool toys, and twenty percent spent in escorting children to and from the bathroom (and since these numbers add up one hundred and ten percent of your available time), we highly recommend that you also purchase one of our other fine products, such as extra strength aspirin, to compliment them.

Of course, it’s not as if goggles are unique in the world of children’s play equipment for their time-consuming qualities: nearly every piece of equipment (or, as I like to think of it, effluent), that accompanies a child’s activities requires constant adjustment and upkeep on the part of the parent to keep it in working order. The space shuttle itself doesn’t require as much maintenance and inspection as your average pair of shin guards.

First, the item in question must be watched constantly, lest it slip from this plane of existence the very morning it is needed. Next, it must be tied, strapped, hooked or hung on the appropriate child, a task only slightly more difficult than putting a dress on a greased pig. Finally, the fit must be continually adjusted to assure that it is not too tight, too loose, too dangly, too bulky, too uncomfortable–in short, so that it feels as if it does not actually exist. This is true whether the item is a pair of shin guards, a violin shoulder rest, a baseball hat or the belt of a karate ghi.

There is a difference, however, between all of the above mentioned pieces of equipment and a pair of swim goggles: the swim goggles are optional. And so, I opt out. I don’t do goggles. As far as I’m concerned, whatever goes on between a child and their private pair of goggles–hair-pulling, lens fogging, strap breaking, even abandonment–is their own business; I would no sooner get between a child and a pair of goggles than I would between Paris Hilton and a video camera.

Now there’s someone who could use her goggles adjusted.

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