Monthly Archives: August 2009


In our house, the children’s bedrooms are right next door to each other. Believe it or not, this seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, however, I realize that this makes about as much sense as placing India next to Pakistan. It also makes me the Peacekeeper—the UN of the house, as it were. Actually, that’s a fairly good analogy for what I do, because, just like the UN, my arrival on the scene is usually a signal that things are about to get a whole lot worse.

My biggest problem is that—just like the UN—I usually have no idea what caused the dispute in the first place. In fact, in my experience the true root of the problem usually lies so far back in the depths of time that no one actually knows what started it. (In the case of India and Pakistan, this might mean one guy stole a goat from another guy back in 1534 C.E. In the case of my children, however, this usually means something like one child snuck in and stole the pillow out from under the sleeping head of another at five o’clock that morning). Either way, one thing is certain: nobody’s getting the real story now.

What this means is that—again, just like the UN—my role is not to solve problems but simply to keep the two warring parties as far away from each other as possible. However, since my kid’s rooms are not only right next door to each other, but also on the opposite side of the house from mine, this works out about as well as trying to keep peace in Asia from an office in New York City.

Here’s a typical scenario: A door slams shut in the middle of the night. A howl of protest (calculated to pierce a sleeping parent’s subconscious) arises. I stagger out of bed and make my way through the kitchen, the dining room and the living room, where, like a negotiator who has just hopped the red eye out of New York and is now standing bleary-eyed on the tarmac at the Islamabad Airport, I try to make the whole thing go away.

“She–,” says Pakistan.

“Me?” splutters India indignantly.

“Both of you please just go back to bed. Leave each other alone, just for one night.”

“You always take his side.” India slams her door.

“Can I sleep with you?” Pakistan sees this as just another opportunity to worm his way back into the UN’s bedroom. It has taken the UN eight years and numerous bribes involving Spiderman sheets to move him out, and the UN doesn’t want to backtrack—but it also doesn’t want to have to stay up any longer. “Please?” Pakistan puts on his angelic face, making the UN’s decision a little easier.

“Okay. But only for tonight. And–”

“I knew it!” India screeches from her doorway.
Pakistan sticks out his tongue.

And the nuclear clock ticks one minute closer to midnight.

At times like these it’s hard to remind myself that one of the reasons we had two children was so that they could enjoy each others’ company. Nowadays I just remind them that if one of them should happen to kill the other one, the surviving child will then have to bear the burden of my long-term care by themselves. “If you kill your brother at the pool today,” I’ll remind Clementine, “you can forget about taking that twenty-fifth anniversary trip to Italy.”

Of course, here is where the UN analogy falls short, since it would appear that no one is ready to take responsibility for the UN in its dotage. Or maybe that just makes the analogy more apt; after all, Clementine has been awfully interested in Sarah Palin’s “death panels” lately.

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Messenger Service

Pop Quiz: What’s the best way to get a message to me?

A) Stick it in a bottle and toss it into the Rio de Flag (and then wait for it to rain).

B) Write it on the back of a Martanne’s tortilla on any given Saturday (and then slip it back into the pile next to Anne).

C)Put it in the “personals” section of the Arizona Daily Sun. (Just address it to “Rick”–the “honey” or “darling” part is optional.)

Or D) Call my house.

The answer, of course, is “A, B, or C”–anything but “D.” Never “D.” I wish that people understood this; I wish that they understood that by calling my house and leaving a message with one of my children, they have essentially just released that message into the Great Void of the Universe, where it has about as much chance of finding me as I have of winning the lottery (and I don’t even play). Sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, and the gods are feeling very, very benevolent, when I get home there will be a piece of paper left for me (usually someplace convenient, like behind the refrigerator) that says, “Mom. Someone called. A while ago. Call them back.”

Even though I know it’s hopeless, I’ll follow up on it.

“Who called?”

“I dunno. Some guy.”

“It was a man?”

“Or a woman. I couldn’t tell.”

“When did they call?”

“A few days ago. Or maybe this morning. I forget.”

I try to tell myself that if it was important, they’ll call back, but the problem is, it was, and they did, and I didn’t get that message, either. Recently a friend of mine came to town and tried to get a message to me–since he had been in New Zealand for the last six months, and was getting ready to move to Australia, my window of opportunity for seeing him was very tiny. Of course, it got even tinier when I never received any of his calls.

The worst part of it is that these days, with cell phones, texting, instant messaging, twittering, and email, people expect you to get their message, and therefore assume that the reason that you are not getting back to them is because you’re blowing them off. But, the thing is, I’m really not–my kids are.

Of course, heaven forbid that my kids should be so slack when a telemarketer calls–the same kids who couldn’t be bothered to look for a pen if the King of Sweden phoned to tell me my Nobel was ready will track me down relentlessly if a telemarketer asks for me by name.

“Phone!” they’ll shout, thrusting it into the shower with me. “For you!”

“Take a message,” I’ll say.

“But you’re here. And it sounds important–I think they’re calling from India.”


Still, at least that means that there are actually four ways to get a message to me–bottles, tortillas, the personals–and now, calling from India.

[Newsflash: Since I recently decided to join the 21st century, there are actually now three more ways to get a message to me. You can contact me through my website,, follow me on Twitter, or waste time with me on Facebook. Just don’t try and call me on my cell phone–I still refuse to get one of those. For now.

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Attic Guy

The other day there was an article in the paper about a guy who got caught hiding in a Pennsylvania family’s attic; he had been living there for a week before they caught him. It seems that every day, after the parents went to work and the kids went to school, this guy would come down out of the attic and steal a little bit more of the family’s stuff: a pair of socks here, a piece of pizza there, maybe the crossword puzzle–you know, little things to make his stay more comfortable. And then he’d “disappear” back into the attic.

When I first read this story all I could feel was an overwhelming sense of relief. “Of course,” I thought. “The attic. That explains everything.” And then I started beating on the ceiling with a broom handle.

“Hey!” I shouted. “You can keep the socks. Just bring back that Doc Marten–I’ve been looking for it for three years.”

No response.

Still, I didn’t completely give up hope until my husband came home and pointed out that 1) we didn’t have the type of attic that people could actually live in (we’ve got one of those “insulation and exposed wiring” models), and 2) how could a one-legged guy get into the attic in the first place? (I refuse to give up on my theory that it was a diminutive one-legged man who stole my daughter Clementine’s VERY expensive shoe.)

Of course, giving up on the idea of an attic-based thief meant that I got to go back to my old theory–that there is an unregulated inter-dimensional vortex located somewhere inside my house. Because how else would you explain things like a shirt disappearing less then twelve hours after I bought it? After all, Clementine assured me that she had looked absolutely everywhere for it. (The same way she looked everywhere for the missing Doc Marten.) The way I see it, there’s either some guy up in our attic wearing a size three Doc Marten and a flowery beige tube top, or we’ve got a bad case of inter-dimensional vortexism.

Obviously Clementine must have come to this same conclusion, which is why she only wasted thirty seconds looking “everywhere” before she gave up in defeat. I must say, however, that she dealt with the possibility of either a guy living in our attic, or her room containing a doorway into a new dimension, much more calmly than I did: it surely is a sign of her mature demeanor that she shrugged off the whole incident by saying, “My new shirt’s gone. Can we go back to the store and get another one?” Que sera sera, indeed.

I just wish that I had the same unflappable sanguinity. “Gone? What do mean ‘gone’?”

“Like gone gone. Like I’ve looked everywhere, and now I need a new one.”

“Oh my god,” I said. “Don’t you realize what this means?”

“No,” she said, starting to sound suspicious.

“It means, “ I explained, “that there might be an inter-dimensional vortex in your bedroom. Don’t you get it? This means I’ll never have to run after the garbage truck again. This is huge.”

Rolling her eyes, she said, “Why do you have to make such a big deal out of everything?”

“Wait–just tell me this: have you heard footsteps above your bed at night?”

“Just forget it, okay?”

“Because ‘some guy living up in the attic’ doesn’t help me with the trash.”

As it turned out, however, it was neither: it was actually just a simple time warp, as evidenced by the fact that the shirt reappeared again in the bottom of the laundry basket a few hours later.

Which is a pity. I really could have used a hand with the trash.

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Shakespeare in the Dark

Earlier this summer, while waiting in line at a local bookstore (I probably shouldn’t say which one) I decided to kill some time by both thumbing through a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and eavesdropping on a conversation between a mother, her teenage daughter, and the bookstore employee who was waiting on them. Despite the lure of a Shaolin-trained Elizabeth Bennet and a ninja Mr. Darcy, the conversation won out. Here’s why:

Mother: (looking at piece of paper in her hand) Can you help us find these books that are on my daughter’s summer reading list?

Bookstore employee: Sure. What are they?

Mother: Well, the first one’s Native Son, and the second one is . . . (peering closer at her paper) Hamlet.

Bookstore employee: No problem. Was there a particular edition of Hamlet you needed?

Mother: (looking at paper again): The one by . . .Shakespeare.

Bookstore employee: Actually, all of our copies of Hamlet are by Shakespeare. Was there perhaps a certain editor . . .?

Teenage Daughter: Do you have it in English?

At this point the employee (who, I think, should be given that store’s customer service of the century award for keeping a straight face throughout the entire conversation), led the mother and daughter away. (And no, he didn’t take them out back and bludgeon them to death with a copy of Twilight for the good of humanity–or at least the gene pool–because I saw them leaving later with a copy of No Fear Hamlet. Obviously The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Shakespeare was all sold out.)

Later, after I had put P & P & Z back on the shelf ( I already owned it) I started pondering which would be worse–to have to watch your zombified best friend gnaw on her own hand during another interminable dinner with Lady Catherine be Bourgh, or to have to teach the classics to a bunch of high school students. And then I had a little epiphany (see Joyce, James–also in English). A ha, I thought, this is why schools close for the summer. Not to give the students a break. Not to reboot all of the computers. Not to give the maintenance crews a chance to finally steam clean all of the vomit out of the kindergarten classrooms and update the graffiti in the bathrooms (“For the last time, it’s ‘for a good time, text Mary at. . .’”) No, the real reason schools close during the summer must be to give all of the teachers a chance to regain at least some of their sanity.

After all–I only had to experience the “Shakespeare in English” question in passing–I can’t imagine if it was my job every day. (The mind boggles. And then goes out, has a beer, comes back, and boggles some more.)

This is why, with another school year almost upon us, I propose that we all take one moment to stop doing the Happy Dance in the “Back to School” aisle at Staples, and instead pause and give thanks to the people who, after having spent six years (at least) in college, are now forced to confront having to explain to yet another batch of children (and their parents) that, in fact, Shakespeare wrote all of his plays in English.

Ideally, we would thank them with cash, but, if that feels awkward, then I’m sure that dry erase markers by the bucketful will do very nicely, too. And of course, there’s always liquor.

For example, if anyone out there knows who is assigning both Native Son and Hamlet for summer reading, please: buy him or her a drink for me. Make it a double. Something tells me they’re going to need it this year, and then some.

And while you’re at it, get one for Oliver at Barnes and Noble, too.

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