Monthly Archives: February 2008

Art Attack

Of all the adjustments I’ve had to make since becoming a mother, I think maybe the hardest one of all was adjusting to the fact that I am now a stereotype. With the birth of my first child I became not only a mother, but a “mother:” someone who drives a minivan (wait, this is Flagstaff–make that an SUV), has a horror of dirt, and petitions the local Wal-Mart to stop carrying Cosmopolitan because the covers are too racy. This despite the fact that I can still frequently be found hauling my mud-splattered kid around town in a twelve-year old bike trailer covered with Dead Kennedy stickers. The reality doesn’t matter: I am a “mother.” Suddenly I understand how frustrating it must be to be from West Virginia: you could be in the middle of explaining your doctoral thesis on astrophysics to someone and, without fail, they will probably interrupt you to ask “so, how’s your sister doin’?(wink, wink)”

Of course, within every stereotype there is a grain of truth, and in the case of the mothering one, that has certainly proved to be true. In fact, I think that the only thing that has proven to be more frustrating to me than having to explain to people that being a mother doesn’t automatically make you uptight and hysterical is when, right in the middle of this explanation, I find out that, sometimes, in fact, it does.

Such was the case when I heard about the recent controversy over the artwork hanging up in the deli at New Frontiers. It seems that some people want local artist Scott Martinson’s work taken down–not because it is badly done (it’s not), not because it’s overpriced (it is so not), but because they “don’t want their children exposed to it.” Hearing this made me feel just like the aforementioned astrophysicist must feel when she finds out that her cousins are getting married–to each other. In other words, a little bit sad and a little bit betrayed. And a little bit confused: what kind of mother doesn’t want her children exposed to art?

There are lots of things I don’t want my children exposed to: Bratz dolls; homophobia disguised as a “Defense of Marriage Act;” a president who thinks waterboarding is okay “in certain circumstances” (like when, I guess, they “really deserve it.”). But art has never been on that list. In fact, I’ve been known to actually pay money so that my children can be exposed to art (just in case those protesting mothers are reading this, those places are called museums). What’s more, I’ve even been known to pay more money so that I can bring a piece of art home and expose my children to it 24/7.

And as for the “offensive” pieces? Surely offensiveness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and any art that gets your attention is art that is doing its job; as writer Miguel de Unamuno said, “I’m not selling bread; I’m selling yeast.” Any doubts on that score were settled the last time I took my six-year old to an art museum: I couldn’t have made him spend an extra minute in front of Monet’s “Gardens at Givenchy” if I had nailed his feet to the floor, but once he saw 17th century artist Artemesia Gentileschi’s incredibly gory “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” he was all about art.

Of course, everyone has their own tastes (and their own limits):one man’s Frida Kahlo may be another man’s Norman Rockwell; still, it would be nice to think that even when someone feels the need to close their own eyes, they don’t also feel the need to deny their children the chance to have theirs’ opened, instead.

Scott Martinson’s art will (hopefully) be on display through the end of March at the New Frontiers deli, located at 1000 S. Milton Rd.

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Catch Phrase

When I was growing up, I always thought that one day I would have my own catchphrase. Not something lame like “What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” but something cool, something more along the lines of Oscar Wilde’s “I can resist anything except temptation.” What I ended up with, however, was a catchphrase that even Gary Coleman can look down his (tiny little) nose at: “Are you saving this?”

“Are you saving this?” is what I say as I follow the rest of my family around the house, trying to make sense of the trash they shed behind them like a molting dumpster.

“Are you saving this?” to my son, Clyde, when he carefully unwraps his popsicle and places the wrapper on the pillow next to him.

“Are you saving this?” to my daughter, Clementine, when she carefully mounds her orange peels on the windowsill at breakfast.

“Are you saving this?” to my husband, even, when he thoughtfully brings in the mail and then piles it up–carpet cleaning offers, dog washing coupons, lawn care advertisements and all–in a heap on the kitchen table. (The carpet cleaning and lawn care I can almost see–after all, it is quite possible that either a carpet or a lawn could be down there somewhere–underneath the piles of junk mail, perhaps–but you’d think that, by now, he would have noticed that we no longer have a dog.)

When they answer this question, as they always do, in the negative, then my second catchphrase comes into play: “Then throw it away!”

To hear their side of it, of course, they are only “waiting” to throw these things away. Waiting for what, I ask–evolution? I hate to break it to them, but even if their trash evolved at the rate of fruit flies it would still be decades before it got up enough gumption to meander into the trash can on its own. Then again, maybe they’re waiting for me–waiting for me to glide along after them like a well-trained butler, conscientiously whisking away crumbs, dirty socks and coupons for half-price colonoscopies.

The trouble is, they’re probably right to wait: when it comes to the game of “clutter chicken,” I will always be the first to blink, because I have an almost pathological horror of it. I know that this must come as a big surprise to anyone who has ever actually been inside my house, but it’s true: I despise cutter. The closest I can come to explaining this apparent discrepancy between the way I live and the way I think is the same way Evelyn Waugh explained the discrepancy between his being a devout Catholic and an utter jerk: “Imagine how much worse I would be if I wasn’t one.” (A Catholic, that is–for him. An anti-clutter nut for me.)

My fear of clutter probably comes from when I was younger and had a friend whose mother one day decided to stop throwing things away. I remember being astonished at the speed at which a normal family house could go from being a little messy to Grey Gardens. It made quite an impression on a younger me: to my eyes it seemed as if literally one day you could leave the newspaper lying on the table amongst the breakfast dishes, and the next there would be livestock in the living room. (In their defense I must acknowledge that they–like everyone else in the neighborhood–lived on a farm, and so it wasn’t as if the livestock had to do a great deal of traveling.) Still, everyone else somehow managed to keep their chickens from laying eggs on top of the TV Guide.

Which reminds me: I guess there really could be worse catchphrases out there than “Are you saving this?” Like, “Is this your chicken?”

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S’no Way

January 7, 2008, 6:23 AM–that loud rumbling sound you heard was not the sound of a snowplow: it was the sound of 20,000 Flagstaff mothers realizing that it was really going to be a snow day.

The fact that we could even have a snow day after two weeks of school vacation is the best evidence I’ve seen so far for the power of prayer. True, it can be assumed that just as many parents were praying against a snow day as there were children praying for one (in much the same way that Steinbeck noted that millions of prayers must fight and destroy each other on their way to the throne of God), but I have to believe that, when it comes to prayer, “vote early and vote often” is especially apt: while the number of both pro-snow and anti-snow pray-ers may have been roughly equal, I’m sure the pro-snow prayers themselves were far greater. Think about it: while the average mother probably looked up at the approaching snow clouds and said, “Please God–don’t let tomorrow be a snow day,” the average child, in contrast, was firmly ensconced in front of the Weather Channel chanting “Snow day, snow day, snow day,” until the lines between witchcraft and prayer became hopelessly blurred.

Whatever the cause, the end result was the same: Day 17 of captivity. Actually, a shipwreck makes a better analogy; when you are a captive there is at least (hopefully) somebody bringing in new supplies. On a lifeboat, however, you must make do with what you have, carefully rationing out your supplies until your rescuers arrive. Which is exactly what most of us did–only, in our case, the thing we were rationing was not fresh water, but rather that much more elusive of commodities: patience. Not that we didn’t prepare: knowing that two weeks of Christmas break loomed ahead, most of us laid in what we though would be an adequate supply. It was just our bad luck to find that, on the very day we had been planning to restock–perhaps with a quadruple mocha and the New York Times–we needed to have saved one more box. And now the cupboard was bare.

Suddenly, we realized that our survival story was going to read a whole lot less like a Reader’s Digest “Drama in Real Life” episode, and more like The Perfect Storm. Less like Robinson Crusoe and more like Into the Wild.

Actually, now that I think about it, I’m going to toss the lifeboat analogy out in favor of something a little more grim, and therefore a little more appropriate: the environment. Yes, in many ways, maternal patience is a lot like the water table: seemingly endless and yet exquisitely fragile. All it takes is a few out-of-control wells–say, the kind that pump nonstop for seventeen days straight–and before you know it there is a sinkhole in your front yard big enough to sink a Hummer. Or, in the case of maternal patience, big enough to sink all your hopes of finally losing the designation among your children’s friends as “the mean Mom.”

That, at least, was my plan. I had decided that, this break, I was finally going to be the cool Mom. I was going to be okay with being asked every fifteen minutes if there was “anything to eat;” I was going to be okay with listening to them say “I’m bored” as they crawled across approximately $1000 worth of new toys spread out all over the floor; I was even going to be okay with breaking up constant fights between two people who swore they would “never fight again, if only you get us (insert nearly anything here).” I was going to be okay with it–for sixteen days. Sixteen. And then morning dawned on the seventeenth day. A snow day.

And I was not okay.

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Of all the things I just don’t understand about children (and there are quite a few), one of the top contenders has to be the whole underwear thing: I have yet to meet a child who will wear a pair willingly. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, at any given time, your chances of finding a child who is actually wearing underwear is at best 50%. (Come to think of it, if it was socially acceptable to pick up stray children and look in their pants, you could devise some sort of new drinking game that way–“Ok, first person who gets three commandos in a row has to take a drink.”). And even though I think I have heard every possible excuse for underwear avoidance, I am still at a loss to explain this phenomenon. All I can do is report it, and, when I can, try and correct it.

That would explain, on a recent visit to Kohl’s, my instructions to Clementine to “go pick out some new underwear.” Notice I didn’t say, “wait here while I go pick out some new underwear for you,” or even “let’s go pick out some new underwear together,” but rather, in a show of my cool, open-minded, groovy Mom-ness, sent Clementine off to pick out underwear all on her own, without even admonishing her to “make sure and get the cheap kind” or “no High School Musical 2 thongs.” And, when she showed up at the checkout with a package of plain (and cheap!) underwear, I felt vindicated in my new hands-off approach to parenting. Or, at least I did: right up until my next surprise drawer inspection. (That would be dresser drawers; I wasn’t drinking.)

“How come almost all of your new underwear is still in the package?” I asked. “Aren’t you wearing it?”

“They’re too big,” she replied.

Nice try, I thought. Too big: that’s the lamest excuse I’ve heard since–holy crap! You could hold a circus in these things! And it was true: this wasn’t just “big” underwear; it was monstrous underwear; her only hope for ever keeping it up would be to pull it up and over her shoulders a´ la Borat and the “Mankini.”

“What,” I asked, “ever possessed you to buy Anna Nicole Smith-size underwear?” Her only reply was to shrug her shoulders in the 11-year-old’s version of c’est la vie, and casually say, “They don’t put the sizes on the outside of the packages.”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not that hip on all the new marketing practices, and I’ll also cop to buying my own underwear so infrequently that even Bridget Jones would be appalled at the state of my lingerie drawer, but somehow, I seriously doubt that the newest fad is to play Russian Roulette with your undergarments. Can you imagine the suspense? Tens of thousands of people the world over, eagerly tearing into their newest underwear purchase, only to be disappointed again and again. We would have to form “Wedgie Support Groups,” not to mention all sorts of underwear exchange networks–eDrawers, perhaps–both online and in person (“Come to my house Tuesday night for an Underwear Swap!–Sorry, no size 0’s”). And what about the Victoria’s Secret catalog? It would take ages to shoot. (“Damn! Another package of “granny panties.” Hold on girls: I’m sure there’s a thong in here somewhere.”)

The truth, however, is much less interesting: in my bid to be “cool–yet conscientious” I fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book: the old “pick out huge underwear so you don’t have to wear it” trick. What? That’s not in your book? Just as I suspected: my kids are reading an entirely different book.

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