Monthly Archives: August 2007

Never Cold

I have decided that when the time comes for me to grow old and crotchety (ok: more crotchety), there will be at least one indignity of old age that I will not have to suffer: I will never have to become one of those poor, shivering old souls who are forever complaining about how cold everyone keeps their restaurants and theaters–the kind who travel everywhere with a cardigan and an extra pair of socks. And no, it’s not the prospect of global warming that has me so optimistic, but rather a lack of retirement planning: in all likelihood I’ll be spending my twilight years with my daughter, Clementine, a person who lives surrounded by a large personal climate bubble that is not only always a delightful 75E inside, but also has the added benefit of being completely impermeable to any type of rain or snow on the outside.

I know this to be true because every time I have tried to help her pack her bags for an upcoming trip she goes ballistic over the mere suggestion that she pack clothing suitable for any weather that could be described by a word other than “balmy.” In fact, judging from her most recent extremely hostile reaction to my suggestion that she take at least one long sleeved t-shirt along with her to summer camp, I thought that maybe there had been a last minute change of venue, and that this year’s camp was being held in Hell.

But no, it was just our usual packing struggle–the usual tears and recriminations, the usual wails of “Why can’t I just wear what I want to wear?” and, finally, the usual grudging acquiescence to the inclusion of one tiny piece of inclement weather gear–like, maybe a pair of socks.

The thing is, it’s not as if I am going to make her wear the clothes in question: I just want her to have them in her possession, if for no other reason than that if I don’t–and she ends up being the kid who has to run through the rain in a Hefty garbage bag–I might start to pull even farther ahead of Britney Spears in the “Worst Mother of the Year” competition. The other reason, of course–the more altruistic one– is that I really do want her to be warm and dry, and I an still naive enough to believe that if I pack it, and she needs it, she will wear it. After all, even the most hardened of fashionista wouldn’t stand around shivering when she could simply reach into her bag and pull on a coat–right?

Maybe not–judging from the tiny blue co-eds I see mincing their way home from the downtown bars every winter, maybe going coatless is the new thing. Maybe it’s not just a fashion statement, but a statement statement. Maybe today’s’ kids burn their coats like the women of the 60’s burned their bras; maybe even showing up at an event wearing a coat (or rain jacket) is now considered the lowest expression of bourgeoisie. Maybe there’s a bunch of kids sitting around the Everest Base camp in shorts and t-shirts even now, greeting all of the “sell-outs” who show up in their brand new Gore-Tex jackets with sneering comments like, “What–did your mommy pack that for you?”

I hope not. I’d much rather believe in the “Clementine’s personal climate bubble” theory than have to face up to the fact that all of these clothing fights might really be stemming from some kind of a misplaced concern for fashion, because if we’re already already fighting about clothing choices at age ten, then what are we going to be fighting about at age fifteen–public nudity? (“But Mom, naked is the new black.”)

Call it my own “personal denial bubble” if you like, but for now it’s all I go– and I’m keeping it.

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One of the things I do every morning in our house is walk around to all of the rooms and collect the various glasses of water that have sprouted like mushrooms on top of every flat surface(and some not so very flat). I then pour the remaining water into a pitcher that I use for my plants. Given the desperate nature of our current drought situation, this has always seemed like a win-win situation to me: firstly, because this means that I no longer feel the need to hound my kids every time they come into the kitchen for a new glass of water (which is approximately every fifteen minutes), and secondly because my plants are thriving off of water that otherwise would have gone to waste (or at least have gone to the wastewater treatment plant, where, in the fullness of time, it might have suffered the ignomity of one day becoming the tiny little bump of artificial snow under some Phoenician’s Gore Tex-clad butt–an unnecessarily humiliating ending, I think, even for a product that did start off as at least 20% kid spit).

Sometimes, though, I start to feel as if all my efforts at saving water are for naught: it’s hard to feel too good about saving a few ounces of water everyday when the guy up the street is hosing off his sidewalk. Unfortunately, the same can also sometimes be said of child-rearing.

I have always liked to think that if my children have only learned one thing from me, it is to be tolerant of other people’s differences. My technique–developed way back when my daughter, Clementine, was just getting to the age when she would point at people in the grocery store–is as follows: as soon as my children start in on the “why is that person short/tall/thin/fat/in a wheelchair/wearing a veil/etc.”-type questions, I tell them that it is because if we all looked the same it would be impossible to tell each other apart, and, as nice as they might think it would be if we all looked like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, just imagine the how difficult it would be to find each other in a crowd: we’d have to start sniffing each other’s butts, like dogs. ( I then go on to point out that, if they thought it was embarrassing for me to pick them up from school now, think how embarrassing it would be after I started sticking my nose into their butts every afternoon in the school parking lot–right in front of their most recent crush, no less.)

Not too surprisingly, this argument (or perhaps the dread of hearing the words “butt sniffing” again) has always been quite effective, and so far both of my kids have turned out to be fairly kind and tolerant individuals. Which is why, just as with my efforts at water conservation vs. the hose guy up the street, it is that much more disheartening to see what other people are teaching to their children.

For example, there’s this new Palestinian kids’ TV show which features not only a Mickey Mouse-like character being beaten to death by an Israeli, but also the subsequent calls for the other characters to avenge Mickey’s “martyrdom.” (I bet it was hard to figure out where to put the laugh track on that one). I know: we all watched questionable TV when we were kids, but come on–it’s not like Bugs Bunny ever declared a fatwa on Elmer Fudd.

It’s almost enough to make me wonder what’s the point of teaching tolerance to my children when they have to live in a world that is clearly filled with intolerance. But, just like with the water I save, I guess when it comes to teaching tolerance every little drop counts.

Still, I wonder how well “butt sniffing” would translate into Arabic.

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This summer, for the first time ever, there were several weeks when both of my children were home with me full time; whereas in previous summers I could always count on at least one of them being in some kind of daycare/ daycamp situation, there were now great swathes of time when all three of us would be alone in the house together–a prospect that filled me with more than a little bit of dread. Not because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find enough stuff for them to do ( I can always find things for them to do–usually involving a broom). And not because I was afraid that hours of summertime TV would turn their brains to mush. (Heck: I grew up watching bad TV all summer long, and–if I do say so myself–I turned out to be pretty…uh, what’s that word, the opposite of not good? Oh yeah: good). What I was worried about, however, was being caught in the crossfire of the Great Sibling War of 2007.

Taken one at a time, my kids are great: they’re fun, interesting and thoughtful individuals that I am proud to know. Put them together, though, and you’d think you’d stumbled into the negotiation sessions for the recent Police reunion tour.

To put it another way, consider the case of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: I’m sure that the Austrians were lovely people, as were the Serbs. However, put them together in a carriage and the next thing you know you’re not only running low on Archdukes, but someone is coming up with the idea of mustard gas..

Not that I’m comparing my kids to World War I. That would be silly: after all, World War I was only fought on two continents, and so far my children have already fought on three. However, just like WW I, where the worst battles were the ones that took place right in the middle of somebody’s backyard, in our case, the worst battles take place right in the middle of somebody’s living room–mine.

Here’s a typical scenario: one will get up early and claim their spot in front of the TV. A little while later, the other one will get up, see that the TV has already been claimed for the morning, and determinedly begin to undermine any possible enjoyment the first one is getting out of it. Nothing overt: perhaps they will bend over in front of the TV to tie their shoes–for twenty minutes. Perhaps they will sing this “great” song they just wrote (at a volume just slightly above the volume of the TV–and increasing incrementally as the TV volume creeps up to adapt). Perhaps they will, like the voice of self-doubt made visible, mutter deprecating comments about the show and the viewer just under their breath, responding to each “What did you say?” with a sly smile and a “Hmm? Oh, nothing–nothing.”

Whatever they do it is guaranteed that the whole thing will end in some sort of physical altercation, with the entire screaming/crying scrum rolling into the kitchen in a blur of tears and fists reminiscent of the fights in the old Andy Capp comics.

Of course, five minutes later they will have forgotten all about it–or it will start all over again, depending on the alignment of the planets and whether or not they think they have a chance of talking me into a trip to the ice cream store later on (as if: Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat had a better chance of Jimmy Carter taking them out for ice cream after Camp David).

In warfare, the term for non-combatants who get killed is collateral damage. I’m not sure what the term is for one who gets so frustrated she wants to join the war as a third combatant, but I’m beginning to suspect that it is Mother.

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Despite the fact that he is only in kindergarten, and that some of the students he goes to school with are literally twice as old and twice as tall as him, my son Clyde decided to participate in this year’s school talent show. Actually, “decided to participate” makes it sound like it was some kind of wrenching decision for him, something he agonized over; in reality, it was not: Clyde heard about the show, and, when they said they were looking for “talent,” naturally assumed that they meant him. More to the point, he assumed that they meant his talent on the dance floor. (His signature moves include “guitar solo jump,” “power slide,” and, of course, the real crowd pleaser: “Mr. Roboto arms.”)

And just like that I was left to wonder once again where in the world this child came from. Not that I’m a shrinking violet on the dance floor: on the contrary, I’ll get up and shake my booty with the best of them, (or, if the best of them are too reticent, all by myself). And, thanks to an early decision to limit my participation in dances like “YMCA” and “The Hustle” to a minimum, I’d like to think that through the years I have managed to shake said booty without causing myself any serious embarrassment. However, my personal record as a Macarena abstainer aside, I’m still not so confident in my dancing skills that I would ever enter myself into a talent contest–not even one where all of the other participants had to get permission from their parents to stay up past 9 pm. And that’s where Clyde is different.

Whereas I get dressed for a party and immediately ask myself: “Does this decade make my butt look big?” Clyde puts on his party clothes, looks at himself in the mirror and immediately says, “I look fabulous!”

And whereas I am more reluctant to get my picture taken than some kind of mutant cross between Michael Jackson and a vampire (wait–is that redundant?), Clyde is always ready for his close up. In fact, when he was a baby, one sure way to get him to stop crying was to hold up our hands, pretend we were taking a picture, and yell “Cheese!”: like a seasoned professional hitting the red carpet, he would go from “despondent” to “delighted” before we even had a chance to find out what the problem was (although, in retrospect it seems like not enough fawning had been the problem all along).

For a while I was afraid that Clyde’s “movie-star quality” meant that the real reason for his odd (for this family) anti-anti-social behavior was a touch of the dreaded acting bug (just what we need in our house–more drama); luckily however, before I had completely resigned myself to living with a (shudder) thespian, I noticed that, for Clyde, it’s not really about being the star of the party–it’s just about the party, period. (Not that it’s much better to be harboring a future Kato Kaelin instead of a future Charlie Sheen, but still: you take what you can get).

And yet, even with all of this–even with knowing about Clyde’s love of the spectacle–the talent show still had me worried. What if they laughed at him? What if they booed? What if, worst of all, they did neither, but just sat and stared, blankly uncomprehending? After all, even though I might not quite understand my little extrovert, that doesn’t mean I want him pulled back down in the gutter with the rest of us.

In the end, though, with luck (and, I must say, talent) all of my worries proved groundless: Clyde rocked the house. So what if the end result was more on the Napoleon Dynamite-ish side than Saturday Night Fever–at least it wasn’t Little Miss Sunshine.

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Blame Game

As I was listening to the list of confessions attributed to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on NPR the other day (apparently, he is responsible for every American tragedy from the Hindenburg to the mussing of John Edwards’ hair), I was struck by the fact that it is obvious my children don’t keep up with current events, because if they did, they would have been all over this story like a soccer Mom on an iced Venti Carmel Macchiato. After all, what could be more fortuitous for them–two people who seem intent on passing through life in an entirely blameless state–than the appearance of a man who is ready to take the blame for everything? (Or rather, nearly everything: I notice that even Sheikh Mohammed wasn’t foolhardy enough to take responsibility for inventing the multiply redundant layers of packaging that cocoon every newly purchased CD; this, no doubt, is due to the fact that–after he cut his finger opening the new Dixie Chicks CD–Osama himself is reported to have declared that particular individual to be the new “Great Satan.”)

Regardless, however, of the few things he won’t admit to (I think he’s also keeping mum on whether or not he was the one who shaved Brittney’s crotch), the sheer breadth of the things he has admitted to would be enough to keep Clementine and Clyde in fine form for years–if only they knew.

If they only knew the opportunities they were missing out on, they could replace their current method of assigning/avoiding blame (a thunderous crash, immediately followed by the sound of running feet and a double cry of “I didn’t do it!”) with a new, improved, and entirely blameless one. (There would be the same thunderous crash, to be sure, but this time, instead of the usual sounds of fleeing and denial, what would follow would be a casual stroll into the kitchen and a careless “Yeah, uh, you know that antique vase your Great Aunt Charlotte gave you? The one we were never allowed to touch? Well, Sheikh Mohammed just broke it. No, really, he did; if you don’t believe me you can ask him yourself–he’ll tell you.”)

With the new Sheikh Mohammed defense in place, instead of having to respond to my demands to know who ate the last English muffin; who started the toothpaste fight; who thought it would be a good idea bring the hose into the living room; with the same old shifty-eyed shrug and a mumbled “I dunno”, they could instead hold their heads up high, slip the hose behind their backs, and proudly declare, “Sheikh Mohammed did it.” And what could I say? After all, given the chance, he probably would admit to it.

Come to think of it, maybe that is actually his nefarious plan: to give the children of America carte blanche to commit any misdeeds they choose, secure in the knowledge that all of the blame (and punishment) will be given instead to the “master of confessions.”

Unfortunately for him, though, if that indeed was his plan, then he made a severe miscalculation when he estimated the media savvy of America’s children. One wonders, in fact, quite what he was thinking; did he really believe that a country that produces adults who–less than six years after 9/11–can’t find Afghanistan on a map could really be capable of producing children savvy enough to get their lost homework excuses off of CNN?

They say that youth is wasted on the young; I think a truer aphorism would be that age–and all of it’s accompanying treachery and cunning–is wasted on the old. After all, by the time you’re old enough to know when it’s time to shut up and call your lawyer (or your terrorist co-conspirator fall guy), most of your really good crimes are behind you. Especially those that involve hoses in the living room.

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