Monthly Archives: July 2007

Pink Like Me

This summer my family will be taking a long-anticipated trip to Tanzania. Even for an inveterate list-maker such as myself, the amount of planning involved for this trip has been quite daunting. There have been the passports, the visas, the immunizations–not to mention all of the special (read: expensive) gear to purchase– times four. Then there has been the mental planning: we have piles of books all over the house about every aspect of life in Tanzania–the people, the politics, the wildlife, the beach scene–we even have a beginner’s guide to Swahili installed on our computer (not that it has done me any good–after six months I can still only say “yes” and “no”–and sometimes I even manage to mess those up).

In fact, I’ve been planning so much about this trip for so long now that even when the only variables left are the ones upon which I have absolutely no control (the weather, currency fluctuations, nearby political upheavals), I feel as if I must still exercise whatever last vestige of controlling powers I have left. And so, of course, I turn to my children.

“Clementine!” I snap when my daughter rejects yet another item of food at dinnertime (this time there was “too much cheese” on her macaroni and cheese), “You know that in Africa, there won’t be a lot of choices, so you’ll have to try new…” Blahblahblah goes the look on her face–obviously she’s heard this one a few hundred times before. So I turn to Clyde:

“Clyde–you know, in Africa, things will be different. The animals will be different, the plants will be different, (blahblahblah goes his face, too) the people will be different–

That gets his attention. “The people? How?”

“Well,” I say, “for one thing, almost everybody will be Black”–

”What?” says Clyde, confused. “Black people? I don’t want to see Black people; I’m scared of Black people!”

Yikes–where did that come from? This certainly puts a new spin on things:“The Cracker Family Goes to Africa.”

In an attempt to fix the problem I have somehow just created I immediately launch into a listing of every African American we know, making sure to highlight all of their “non-scary” attributes. (Although, given the paucity of the resulting list of people, I am beginning to think that maybe we do deserve the “Cracker Family” moniker after all). Not that it matters–Clyde dismisses my pitiful little list out of hand: “But Mommy, they’re not black–they’re brown. Like Daddy.”

Okay, now I’m the one who’s confused. Daddy’s brown? Then what color am I?

“Yellow.” (I really need to get away from the computer screen more.) As it turns out, census forms in Clyde’s world would be simple–you’re either brown, or you’re pink. (Disturbingly, I am the only fluorescent mole rat in his life–and therefore the only “yellow peril”). Suddenly it all makes sense: with a classification system like that, a truly black person would be quite frightening; I realize that it’s not Black people that Clyde is scared of–it’s black people. Not that this knowledge does me any good–even if I follow him around and explain to everyone we meet that “He’s saying black with a little ‘b’–a little ‘b,’” this will not change the fact that I am about to travel to Africa with a child who has no problem loudly and publicly declaring “I don’t like black people.”

I wonder if it’s too late to change our trip to Idaho? Of course, that would take some planning, too. And I’d probably still end up saying something stupid like “there’ll be a lot of White people.” Which means I’d still have to follow him around, only this time I’d be explaining, “He’s saying white with a little “w”–a little “w.”

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I used to have a horse named Sugarfoot that was well known for her sighs: she would start in with the sighing as soon as she saw me coming across the pasture with a halter in my hand–huge, earth-rattling, 1000-pound sighs. Sighhh as I slipped the halter over her nose. Sighhh as I tossed a bareback pad up on her back. Sighhh as we headed down the driveway in search of adventure. Since Sugarfoot was a rather round horse already, her sighs were not something I could easily ignore; how could I ignore something that caused my already nearly horizontal legs to stick out even further each time she gathered breath for one of her monumental sighs? It was like riding a bellows. And even if I could have ignored the pendulum-like rise and fall of my legs, there was no way I would have been able to ignore the look that accompanied those sighs: it was the closest I have ever seen an animal come to actually rolling their eyes in exasperation.

“Are you really going to make me leave my nice, comfortable pasture to go on the Bataan Death March?” her look said.

Not that I was asking Sugarfoot to do anything so extreme: nothing beyond walking for a few miles alongside the canal until we had found a suitable watermelon field for “guerrilla harvesting.” It wasn’t like I was asking her to hold still while I stood on her withers and practiced my trick-riding skills (well, not more than once). It wasn’t like I was asking her to gallop between the rows of the pistachio orchard so I could pretend I was Alec Ramsay on The Black Stallion (again, not more than once). It was just a nice, pleasant little ride. And that was the problem.

Between the look and the sighs, it all too obvious that Sugarfoot had a very low opinion of the whole horseback riding thing in general, and horseback riding as it concerned her in particular: while she might have to put up with it (grudgingly), she sure wasn’t going to make it enjoyable for the rest of us.

Fast forward twenty years or so, and, take away the nine-hundred-pound difference in their weights, the tail, and the fact that I have never, not even once attempted to stand on her withers, and Clementine is Sugarfoot all over again.

It starts in the morning when I ask her to put her cereal bowl in the sink–sighhh, followed by requests to get dressed–sighhh, gather up her homework–sighhh, brush her hair–sighhh. Every tiny request is met with the same shuddering sigh, until our house sounds like a bunch of asthmatics trying to play the tuba. The only thing that breaks up the monotony is that sometimes the sigh is accompanied by a complimentary eyeroll (who knows: maybe with six you get eyeroll).

As a matter of fact, Clementine has been sighing so much lately that I can’t remember what it’s like to talk to someone whose words don’t all come out on the exhale. It’s like living in a meditation hall. Or in a garage where all of the tires are suddenly going flat.

“Did you brush your teeth?” I’ll ask.

“Yessssss…” she’ll sigh.

“When are you going to clean your room?”


The funny thing is that, just like with Sugarfoot, this spectacular performance is taking place for an audience of one–me–a person whose appreciation for the dramatic arts borders on the low side of negligible. And just like with Sugarfoot, the whole point of the performance is to get across the idea that while certain activities will be tolerated (grudgingly), they will not generate any enjoyment whatsoever–for anyone.

At least with Sugarfoot, every now and then I still got a watermelon out of the deal.

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Five Hours

Recently, my daughter, Clementine, spent five hours cleaning one of the bathrooms in our house. This wasn’t by choice–it was one of her chores–and although, judging from the amount of time she spent cleaning it you might think that we possess what must either be the world’s biggest, or the world’s cleanest, bathroom, neither is true. The fact is, she spent five hours cleaning a four by five foot space and never even got around to sweeping the floor.

Oh, sure, she claimed to have swept it. Every one of the 75 times she marched out of the bathroom and announced she was done (in much the same tone Civil War surgeons must have announced they were done after amputating their 300th leg of the evening) she responded to my questions about the floor’s status with an exasperated, “”It’s swept, ok? There’s nothing on the floor.” But, alas, just as the doctors learned to their dismay at Gettysburg (and as I was to also learn to my dismay after a quick peek at the bathroom), she was not, in fact, done.

And how did I know this? Had I planted some tiny little scrap, some infinitesimally small object somewhere on the floor which I was now using as an evaluative guide? Not quite: it was more like the sight of a six inch long rubber bat being devoured by a mammoth grey dust bunny that tipped me off.

“Are you honestly telling me you don’t see that?” I asked the third time I had returned to the “finished” bathroom and gazed down upon the horrifying tableau.

“You never said I was supposed to clean that,” was the reply. In her defense I suppose I had only said “clean the floor,” and not “clean all the floor–especially the parts that look like they came straight out of Monty Python Meets Dracula.” Of course, it wasn’t like the rubber rodent population was her only obstacle, either: there was also the little matter of her having–perhaps in a bid for efficiency– “mopped” the floor (read: splashed a dirty mop around) before she had “swept”it (see Rubber Bat; above), thereby giving even more authenticity to the bat cave look by the addition of the long, grey “filthicles” hanging off of every vertical surface the mop had touched. (Which, judging from the vigorous thumping I had heard coming from the bathroom, and the evidence before me, was nearly all of them.)

And this was only in the first hour.

As we went back and forth over the next four hours–me with my uptight insistence that pieces of trash larger than a bread basket actually qualified as “trash,” and her with her equally insistent claims that wet, dirty wash-clothes don’t go in the hamper, but are rather shoved all the way to the back of the bottom drawer–I couldn’t help but wishing that I was paying her. Not because I would then be getting an incredibly hourly value out of whatever set price we had agreed on, but because if I had hired her, I would now be able to fire her. But just as you can’t break up with your children, you can’t fire them either, and so we continued, on and on, until, finally, five long hours later the bathroom floor, while still not clean enough to eat off of (or even, really, walk barefoot over), was clean enough to pass my (ever-lowering) standards. And although, in the time it took her to get to that point Buddhist monks could have collected all the dirt in the bathroom, separated it into individual grains and created a splendid sand painting in the middle of the room, at least it was done. And hopefully something was learned from the effort. Like, when Mom is checking, don’t forget to pick up the freaking bat–she’s funny about things like that.

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I am a member of the “almost” family. Somehow, I have come to live in a house with people who think that life is one big game of horseshoes: where bringing your dishes all the way up to the sink without actually putting them inside it still earns you a few points. In other words, just like in horseshoes, they want credit for a “leaner.” Although, really, the horseshoe analogy might make better sense if in the game of horseshoes you not only got credit for getting the shoe close to the peg, but simply for driving to the tournament (while leaving the horseshoes sitting in the trunk of your car, on your front porch, or–better yet–still to be purchased at the local sporting goods store).

In my house we have socks that “almost” made it to the laundry basket, cereal that “almost” got put back into the cupboard, and homework that “almost” got returned to the backpack. It wouldn’t bother me so much if these were things that just didn’t get done at all (ok, yeah: that would bother me, too), but it’s the fact that they are always almost accomplished that pushes me over the edge. Who takes the trouble to carry the cat’s food dish all the way over to the bag, fill it, and then leave it in the closet? Who gets undressed two feet away from the laundry hamper and then piles the dirty clothes on the floor?

Maybe I’ve been watching too many zombie movies, but there is just something unbelievably eery about walking into a house with the TV still on, every light blazing, and a moldering bowl of cereal perched precariously on the edge of the sink. I almost expect some ghoul to come leaping out of the hall closet and try to eat me, or rather, I would expect that if it wasn’t for the fact that all of the “almost” hung up winter coats on the floor would probably catch the ghoul around his rotting ankles and send him crashing to the “almost” swept floor.

Or, if I was at all religious (and wasn’t already all too cognizant of my family’s true nature), the pile of empty clothes and shoes stretched out beseechingly from front door to bathroom might leave me in grim apprehension that the Rapture had occurred while I was out buying vodka and lottery tickets, and somehow mysteriously (and mistakenly) left me behind.

Or I might even think that some terrible tragedy had struck my family; perhaps some debilitating virus that had come along and stricken them in the midst of their morning routines, making their only chances of survival to put the milk jug down right here, on the floor in front of the refrigerator, and, using their last tiny bit of strength, crawl to the hospital.

However, even if I was gullible enough to believe any of those theories, eventually they would all fall by the wayside once it had become obvious that the zombie infestation/imminent Rapture/viral attack did not also cause a subsequent almost finishing of donuts, almost cessation of smacking their little brothers on the backs of their heads, or almost finishing of video games. (Although, now that I think about it, I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen anyone actually finish a video game in my life; instead, they just seem to keep moving on to the next level forever and ever in a never-ending cycle of “war” and “not so much war.” Kind of like a certain “War on Terror.”).

Actually, maybe it’s the “War on Terror” that offers the best explanation. Think about it: to a child that has been raised under the current administration, the idea of hanging a “Mission Accomplished” sign next to a half-made bed might make pretty good sense.

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