Monthly Archives: December 2008


Not too long ago, I was sitting in Pay ‘n Take when someone brought up the subject of disgusting internet videos (ok: it was me). I had just read an Esquire interview with George Clooney, where the reporter had shown George some of the “facts” that were available about him on the web. (I especially liked George’s reaction to the “George Clooney is gay, gay, gay” page: “I’ll take the first two, but I resent that last ‘gay.’”). At one point, perhaps bored with looking at stories about his subject, the reporter had shown George what he felt was the most disgusting video out there–it was so bad that George ended up calling his publicist over so that he could watch it with them; obviously he wanted to see the reaction of a professional BS artist.

What I was lamenting in Pay ‘n Take was the fact that even though the article had given the name of the video, I still hadn’t been able to find it online; at this point several twenty-something guys sitting at the bar all started urging me to cease my searching: they knew the video that I was referring to, and to a man each declared “You don’t want to see it. It’s too disgusting.”

This got me to wondering about the subjective nature of a word like “disgusting.” Although I did, in the end, quit looking for it (I think I looked up Mika on wikipedia instead), I was still intrigued by the idea of something being “too disgusting to watch.” “Too disgusting” for whom? Certainly not for a mother, because, when it comes to disgusting, no one is better able to handle it than a mom. Take puking, for example: no one deals with puke better than we do. I’m trying to think of some of the other options: a Las Vegas street sweeper, a chambermaid at the annual bulimia conference, an elementary school janitor? True, they’re probably pretty good at handling vomit, but then again, they should be: they’re getting paid to do it, and if they really get tired of it, they can always just punch up their resume and find a (presumably) puke-free occupation somewhere else.

A mother, on the other hand, is an unpaid puke professional. She has to be: from the time when her children are infants and she has to be able to determine whether her baby is simply “spitting up” (a delightful euphemism–I don’t know why drunk people don’t use it more often) or actually “vomiting,” all the way up to the time when they are school-aged and have forgotten to do that week’s book report (“I think I should stay home today; I threw up”), a mother has to be an expert on puke. (My personal puke rule, by the way, is that to stay home from school you have to have puked twice; anyone with a moderate imagination can make themselves puke once. Puke twice and you’re either really sick or you deserve to stay home so you can work on your novel.)

Some people would have you believe that it is motherly instincts that make woman so adept at handling the puke thing–your overpowering love for your child renders their every action a delight to your senses. Whatever. I say it is simply the result of desensitizing: get puked on enough and it just doesn’t matter anymore. I know this is true because I have been puked on by kids I didn’t even know, and still had the same blase reaction: it just doesn’t matter. Actually, that’s my theory about all those disgusting internet videos as well–I think that they were all actually made by mothers who have figured out a way to turn a profit on their cast iron “mothering” stomachs. Either that, or the world is even more full of freaky people than I thought.

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Picture Perfect

Last month I read a small little blurb in the Phoenix paper about a Tucson school photographer who was found dead in a hotel room in Nogales; there was no trace of the thousands of pictures he had taken for the Tucson Unified School District that year. I know, I know, but before you even go there, I have something to say: I have an alibi. Really.

My antipathy for school photographers is well known, and goes back to my own school days, and to the truly dreadful photographs they took of me. Because my mother always bought them, I would have to look at those pictures hanging on our living room wall all year long, each one a perfect study in the art of looking stupid. There was the one from 4th grade, where the photographer bellowed out “Say ‘I love Fonzie!’” and then clicked his shutter just as my lip curled back in a disdainful sneer; there was the one from 7th grade, where I tried to look enigmatic but only managed to look like I was trying to put 2 +2 together in my head, and not having much luck at it; and, of course, there was the one from high school, where the photographer must have decided that he could save a few pennies on the lighting by using the shine off of my forehead and nose instead.

But even the pain of thirteen years of bad public school photography couldn’t prepare me for the pain I feel now, as an adult, when it is my children who are the ones being photographed. Because now, not only do I have to look at these washed-out, grainy portraits–I have to pay for them, too. And not just once, but over and over again, several times over the course of one year, at least. (The photographers must have picked up on the fact that most parents can’t even remember if they brushed their own teeth that morning; the chance of them remembering in the Spring that they already paid for a set of pictures in the Fall is negligible, at best.)

True, I could always opt out of the whole picture thing; as the Mom who already sends her kids to school with their lunches dripping through the bottom of newspaper bags, mismatched socks, and stubby, chewed-on pencils recovered from the couch cushions, it would surprise no one if I also didn’t pay for school pictures. And, with Clementine, this is actually an option: like me, she also harbors an intense hatred for people who–for any reason whatsoever–demand that you smile. (Consequently, in all of her school pictures she is showing all the enthusiasm of someone getting their mug shot taken–sober.)

These pictures are easy to deny. But Clyde’s? Clyde gravitates to a camera like a plant to sunlight. Even as an infant he had the uncanny ability to pull himself together in the most trying of circumstances so that he could flash a beaming smile at the lens. In fact, a little while back he had a small part in a local play, and I–thinking about what I would have wanted (had someone somehow tricked me into being in a play)–assured him on the day of the performance that he “didn’t have to worry about a thing–I hadn’t told a soul.”

He was crushed. “You mean no one is coming to see me?”

“Um, yeah,” I replied. “That’s good, right?”

Wrong. And so, Clyde–the boy who can’t remember to wear socks when it snows–of course remembers exactly what those big blue envelopes mean when every other kid in his class gets handed one–and he doesn’t. Which is why not purchasing them isn’t really an option–or at least, it wasn’t an option, until I found out exactly just what could happen to a school photographer, and their photographs.

I’m just saying.

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“Parents are sometimes a disappointment to their children. They don’t fulfill the promise of their early years.” (Anthony Powell)

I wish that I could pinpoint the exact moment in time when, in the eyes of my children at least, I went from being brilliant to barely being competent enough to be allowed out in public on my own. With my daughter, Clementine, it happened very early on: in fact, she was the only child in her kindergarten class who did not want her mother to stay with her the first day. (“You can go now,” she said to me at the door.) And it’s gotten worse from there: just the other week she wanted me to sit out in the car and wait for her during a three hour school function. (“Ok, you can come in if you promise to stand in the corner and not talk to anyone.” she finally allowed.)

I keep waiting for the same thing to happen with my son, Clyde–for the knob on his “parental mortification” sensor to be turned up to “eleven,” but so far, nothing. (Although, kind soul that he is, he might just be hiding his disdain for my imbecility better than Clementine ever did). Maybe, but I doubt it: by the time she was her brother’s age Clementine’s doubts as to my competence were too numerous to be hidden. Not only would she blink at me in disbelief at my explanation of the natural world (true, my reasoning that the sky is blue because the sky got first pick was particularly specious), but she would even challenge me on things that I could be expected to understand. Like writing. (“Look,” I’d say, “this word really is spelled with a “g”–it says so in the dictionary.” “In your dictionary, maybe.”)

Still, even though I may never know the answer to where it all began, at least I know the answer to when it will end: sometime after she has her first child. Oh, the mysteries that were solved for me after I had children! Like, “Why was my mother so mean?” became “How did I ever make it to adulthood without her killing me?” and “Why are my parents so cheap?” became “Did I really once use my mother’s credit card to buy a $60 pair of leg warmers, and live to tell the tale?”

Of course, it is entirely possible that Clementine will never have children (in fact, she currently insists upon it), which means that–in her eyes at least–my stupidity will continue on unabated until the day I die. If that is the case, then I will have no choice but to milk it for all it’s worth; after all, if I’m going to be treated like an idiot, I should at least have the option of behaving like one.

That means that when the day comes when I have to move in with Clementine (in her ultra-chic, child-free downtown loft) because I’ve spent all of my own money on the Home Shopping Network and Dial-A-Prayer, she can’t act surprised. Or when she has to drive me everywhere because I got so many tickets that I lost my license, she can’t complain. After all: what else would she expect with an idiot for a mother?

Come to think of it, I might start playing the idiot card now. Why should I get her that oh-so-expensive “twilight” hoodie she wants for Christmas, when all the “High School Musical 3″ ones will soon be 70% off? (After all, how can an idiot tell the difference between a vampire and a cheerleader?)

In fact, I might become so stupid that I forget to shop–or clean, or cook, or drive people to their friends’ houses–entirely. In fact, I might get so dumb that eventually the Republicans will ask me to run for Vice President. Now that would be mortifying.

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When I Poop My Masterpiece

I’ve always tried to encourage my children in all of their artistic endeavors. True, I have absolutely refused to allow finger paints to come inside my house, and I view playdo as something that has crept up from the depths of Hell, sworn to wreak havoc on the carpets of the world, but other than that–other than my complete unwillingness to put up with any kind of mess whatsoever–I have always been very supportive of art in the home. It’s just that, preferably, I’d like to support art in somebody else’s home.

When art projects do manage to get done in my house, I like them to be orderly: although I can appreciate in the abstract what Jackson Pollack was trying to express, I don’t necessarily want him to be painting at my kitchen table. It’s the same with my children: while I don’t go so far as to tell my kids that they must color inside the lines, I do tell them that they must at least color inside the page. As you may have guessed, this also means that finger painting, papier- mache, and anything involving glitter is also out, as well as any activity that involves pulling all the cushions off of the couch or stretching a sheet between two dining room chairs.

You might think, reading this laundry list of forbidden arts, that my children would grow up bereft of artistic outlets (that was what I thought, at least). But you would be wrong, because there is one form of artistic expression that even I can’t repress, one that, much to my chagrin, my son Clyde discovered all on his own. Performance Art.

Actually, Clyde’s chosen artistic medium can best be described as part performance art and part temporary installation, and while it is not technically “messy,” it still manages to set off the “messiness alarms” inside my head. Clyde, it would seem, is on the cutting edge of what, for lack of a better term, I will refer to as The Bowel Movement.

In other words: he absolutely refuses to flush the toilet.

This is not due to forgetfulness on his part, nor any kind of general male cluelessness. He honestly just doesn’t see the point of flushing away a piece of work that he has put so much time and energy into creating.

“Mom! Mom! Come look,” he’ll shout at me from the bathroom, and I will dutifully troop in to see the latest masterpiece.

“Very nice,” I’ll say, torn between being supportive and being grossed out. “Now let’s flush.

“No! I want Daddy to see it.”

“Daddy won’t be home for four hours. Maybe you can just tell him about it.”

“It won’t be the same.”

No, it won’t, and won’t Daddy be all the luckier for that?

In all other respects he is a normal child: he doesn’t keep a tissue collection of his “favorite sneezes;” he doesn’t keep his toenail clippings in a jar; he doesn’t even keep the flowers he receives for his anniversary until they are all brown and spider-webby (oh wait; that’s me). He just doesn’t flush. Which, I suppose, isn’t all that bad.

Except that my only point of reference for this behavior is a former room-mate who used to take Polaroids of his “greatest works” and post them on the fridge with captions such as : “Three Bic Macs, two pounds of lil’ smokies and a Mountain Dew Big Gulp later…”

Still, I suppose it could be worse. After all, as I always tell myself after flushing Clyde’s latest masterpiece, he could have chosen a really awful form of artistic expression. He could have chosen Legos.

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