Monthly Archives: December 2007

Money, Money, Money

I always promised myself that I wouldn’t turn into one of those people who follow their kids around saying things like: “Do you have any idea how much that costs?” Of course, I also promised myself I wouldn’t turn into one of those parents who wipe off their kids’ noses with their own shirt-tail, and that, no matter what, my house would always be the “cool” hangout. As it is, my kids are lucky if their noses are the only thing that gets wiped with a shirt-tail, and unless “all the tap water you can drink” is the new “cool,” my house has fallen so far down the list that it doesn’t even register on the “Cool-o-meter” anymore. So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that my vows concerning not harping on money didn’t work out, either.

In fact, not only have I not managed to avoid saying things like “Do you realize how long I had to work to earn enough money to buy those shoes?” I instead say them so often that I frequently remind myself of Bob Barker on The Price is Right. This is when I’m not reminding myself of Monty Hall on Let’s Make a Deal. (“Do you want to find out what’s behind door #1-Clyde’s room, door #2-Clementine’s room, or door #3-their shared bathroom? Not that it really matters–your chances are much higher of finding *A Brand New Stain!* than *A Brand New Car!* in any case.)

The worst part of it is that I haven’t received any noticeable benefit from breaking yet another one of my own rules; on the contrary, my constant recital of the consumer price index has not done my children (or my bank account) one bit of good. Where Clyde is concerned this may be because the only thing that matters to him about money is the quantity of it: he thinks that our bulging penny jar makes us the richest people around. (This is something Clementine picked up on fairly early; unless we intervene she has been known to use this knowledge to slowly suck Clyde’s savings away from him one coin at a time with the old “I’ll give you these two pennies for that one quarter,” routine.)

And yet, despite her savvy when it comes to the low level world of piggy bank arbitrage, Clementine herself remains as blissfully ignorant as Clyde when it comes to the true cost of things. Princesses and pop stars could probably do a better job then the two of them at guessing the real cost of a gallon of milk (of course, that could be because of all the binging and purging they do, but still). Clementine, on the other hand, still doesn’t understand why I practically go into convulsions every time she casually splashes a quart of milk onto her morning cereal, takes two bites, and then pours the whole thing down the garbage disposal, only to repeat the process every twenty minutes or so until she no longer feels hungry (or until I throw myself bodily in front of the fridge–whichever comes first).

I’ve tried to explain it to her by asking her to see it from my perspective: how would she feel if she had ten dollar bills in her room, and every morning I went in, took one, blew my nose on it and then threw it in the trash? Doesn’t she think that she, too would get a bit irate?

Of course, the only result of this little parable was to convince her that she needed to be even more diligent about hiding her money from me; after all, I obviously have some unresolved issues with money and mucus.

Actually, she may have a point there; after all, there has to be some sort of an explanation for all those shirt-tails.

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Beast of Burden

To celebrate her eleventh birthday, my daughter Clementine and I took a trip to Edinburgh, a city that is essentially made up of hundreds of little pubs connected by long winding flights of stairs. Unfortunately, Clementine wasn’t allowed into any of the pubs (and for some reason wasn’t too keen on waiting outside for me while I “just had one–two at the most”), and so that left the exploring portion of our Edinburgh trip heavily slanted in favor of the stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. This is significant because it was during this trip that I discovered a curious facet of eleven-year-olds: despite the fact that they have been known to haul around book bags that are positively leaden with undelivered memos and half-eaten sandwiches–not to mention trick-or-treat bags the size and weight of a pony keg–they are, apparently, completely unable to carry a small suitcase farther than one inch before they are forced to fling it down and cry out despairingly: “I can’t carry it! It’s too heavy.” Which means, that in a city like Edinburgh, the other person (the one who is not eleven years old) will need to not only carry twice as much stuff as they need, but to carry it twice as far, as well.

Not that this phenomenon was limited to Edinburgh: we also visited Bath, a city in southern England that can trace its history back to the Romans. It was there that–after taking note of my stooped and shuffling gait as a result of my double burden–the tour guide (who was also playing the part of a Roman patrician) pointed to me and then said knowingly to Clementine: “And this must be your slave.”

By this time I was beginning to look at each new attraction we visited with a more and more jaundiced eye: the London Eye was “good” because it moved on its own and had benches; Stonehenge was “bad” because you had to walk to see it. (So what if it’s “more authentic” that way; I’m sure that the Druids–or whomever–would have been the first to welcome a better way to get around. In fact, that may be what Stonehenge represents: a request to the gods to hurry up and create some Segways.)

Finally, near the end of our trip, I decided that the £12 (about $25) a day excess luggage storage fee they were charging at the train station (and which had seemed outrageous to me when we had first arrived), was actually the wisest investment I would ever make. (And, considering the hundreds of dollars in chiropractor’s fees I would likely be saving, probably was.)

There was, however, one snag: the £12 charge was not only per day, but per partial day as well. This meant that every time you removed your luggage from storage you would be charged an additional £12. I did my best to convey this to Clementine as we sat sprawled out across the floor of the train station, rearranging “our” luggage into one manageable bag.

“Do you have everything you need? Everything?” I asked for the tenth time.

“Yes, yes, yes! I told you already. I have everything.”

“Ok, it’s just that it costs”–

“I know!”

Fifteen minutes (and another long staircase) later we stepped back out into the chilly Edinburgh day, considerably lighter both of luggage and (for me at least), of spirit. Or at least I was until Clementine turned to me and peevishly asked, “So, where’s my hat?”

On the bright side, I did manage to shed another 12 pounds.

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Ol’ Stinky

Living in a tourist town like we do, you never know what you might see when you look out of your window. (My personal favorite was the weekend there was a serendipitous pairing of the Pride in the Pines festival and the Pine Country Rodeo, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “ride ‘em, Cowboy.”) Bearing that in mind, if, sometime during the next few weeks, you should happen to look out of your window and see a crazed, scissor-wielding woman chasing an unkempt child down the street, don’t worry: it’s just the serendipitous pairing of my daughter, Clementine, and laundry day.

Before you get too worried, let me tell you all of the good things that the above scenario reveals. For one, it shows that Clementine is a very loyal person: once she makes a commitment, she will do whatever it takes to see that commitment through, whether that means going outside in all kinds of weather to feed her pet rabbit or staying up late to finish a birthday present. Or even, sometimes, wearing the same shirt for five days in a row.

And, before you ask: no, it’s not a sports thing; I wish it were. I could understand, and even tolerate it if she was refusing to change her lucky t-shirt as long as the Suns were in the playoffs or something (in fact, I wish she had worn the same shirt the whole time the Suns were in the playoffs this summer, so that I could’ve mailed that stinky, stinky shirt to a certain referee). No, for her it is simply a matter of love: she simply loves the shirt she’s wearing so much she can’t stand the thought of parting with it even for washing.

This has led to some eye-opening (and sinus-clearing) mornings at our house. What usually happens is that Clementine will make her appearance in the kitchen for breakfast, wearing–surprise, surprise!–the same shirt she had on the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that. (I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes.) She is then directed to “put on another shirt,” to which she replies something along the lines of “I don’t have any other shirts,” (my favorite variation being “I literally don’t have any other shirts,” which always prompts me to reply “I literally don’t believe you know the meaning of that word”). A search is then executed, whereupon hundreds (no, not literally) of shirts are discovered scattered about her room, one of which she is directed to pick out and put on. At which point the fun really starts.

Some days she goes back into her room for a few minutes, only to emerge wearing the exact same shirt she had on before (this has actually been known to work: like I said, sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake). Some days she comes out in a new shirt, but then circles back around the house after she has “left” for school to surreptitiously change back into Ol’ Stinky. And once, in a preview of the high school years, she tucked the filthy favorite into her book bag and did a quick change in the school bathroom both before, and after, school. Which brings us to the crazed, scissor-wielding maniac. (That would be me.)

Through the years I have found that, discipline-wise, nothing works quite so well as crazy. Nothing can produces consistent results like apparent insanity; while time outs may work for some kids, and losing privileges for others, I have yet to meet the child whose bad behavior didn’t immediately cease in the presence of an adult who started speaking in tongues.

Or, in my case, pulled out a pair of scissors and started chopping an offending t-shirt into little pieces while they were still wearing it.

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Biggest Loser

I live in the Land of the Lost. No, I don’t share a cave with Marshall, Will and Holly, nor do I play slow-motion games of “chase” with the neighborhood Sleestaks, but nevertheless, I live in the Land of the Lost–lost shoes, lost homework, lost lunch boxes, etc. As befits a citizen of the Land of the Lost, most of my time is spent practicing the (also) lost art of “looking.” (“Lost” at least, it would seem, to my fellow citizens.) Sometimes entire days will go by when I do nothing but search for one “vital” lost item after another, until the various nooks and crannies of my house are as drearily familiar to me as the frozen food section at Bashas’. (Here’s a question: if you have something that you consider “vital” to your health and happiness–such as a completed homework assignment–wouldn’t you make sure not to leave it in the backyard during the monsoon season? Or, if you had a favorite stuffed animal–one that had to be in place for sleep to occur–wouldn’t you leave it on your bed where you could find it? It seems to me that to do anything else would be ridiculous–as ridiculous as say, leaving 30,000 guns lying around a country filled with hostile insurgents. Although, on second thought, perhaps that’s not the best example.)

Sometimes it gets so bad that I think that maybe I’m being punished for being forgetful in a former life, and, in a way, I suppose I am: after all, aren’t all parents being punished for the crimes they committed during their former lives as children? At least when I was a child, though, the things that I was looking for were the things that I, myself, had lost; with this current losing streak we’re living through the things I’m looking for are things in which I played no part in misplacing. And what’s worse: when it comes to the current crop of lost items, not only am I a member of the search party; all too often I am the search party.

Forget having my six-year-old son, Clyde, help look: he’s about as helpful as Spicoli (“I have a jacket? No way–what does it look like?”). And as for Clementine–well, since lately everything in her life seems to play out like the last scene in a Greek tragedy, most of her “looking” consists of long, bitter lamentations at the very idea of the object going missing in the first place ( “Oh heartless Universe: why have you once more riven my jacket from me?” Sort of a “Rage, rage against the dying of the light (blue jacket)” moment for the pre-pubescent set.) An alternate tack for her is to blame the loss on her little brother. Unfortunately, the same trait that renders him unsuitable for looking duties also makes him unfit as a scapegoat: “What? You used to have a jacket, too? Awesome!” (see Spicoli, ibid.)

One might think that, saddled as I am with two such unhelpful lookers, I could at least count on the services of the one other adult in my house–my husband–for help. One might think that, but then, one would be wrong, because if children are like Spicoli reborn, then husbands are like Spicoli grown up. How else would you explain that mine’s usual response to any and all appeals to help form a search party for missing library books, glasses, iPods, etc. is an infuriating: “Relax. It’ll turn up eventually.” (Yes, but I don’t need it eventually: I need it today).

Come to think of it, looking back on those old Land of the Lost episodes it now becomes painfully obvious why it was that they could never escape: it wasn’t because the portal back into their own world was too hard to find; it was because they didn’t have a mother there to look for it.

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