Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Easter Bribe

The Easter Bunny didn’t come to our house this year. There were no colored eggs, no jelly beans, no bags of green plastic grass—there wasn’t even a chocolate rabbit. What there was instead was cold, hard, cash. That’s right: this year I bought my way out of Easter.

It’s not that I have anything against Easter—out of all the rituals the Christians stole from the Pagans, Easter is probably my favorite. After all, it fits right in with my own personal religion, which is to celebrate anything that involves chocolate, alcohol, or pork products. (If I could find a religious holiday that combined all three I would not only convert, but would probably start going door to door to proselytize.) And yet, despite the fact that Easter comes very close to meeting all three of my requirements (it needs more drinking), this year the whole thing just sort of snuck up on me.

I don’t know why—it isn’t as if I didn’t get plenty of warning: just as the first few crocuses pushing their way out of the snow tells you that Spring is on its way, the first few Cadbury eggs popping up at the checkout stand do the same thing for Easter. And even if you somehow miss the eggs, and the towering bags of Easter candy, you can always figure it out yourself using the secret Easter formula (Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox—and you thought the Pope just threw a dart at the calendar).

Still, even with all of that advance warning, Easter caught me by surprise this year. And so, faced with the unpleasant prospect of running out at the last minute and getting a bunch of corn syrup disguised as food, I had three choices: I could pretend that I had suddenly become health conscious and say I was refusing to buy candy out of principle; I could pretend that I had suddenly become principled and say that instead of spending money on our own Easter this year I was making a family donation to a rabbit rescue fund, or, I could tell the truth.

Surprisingly (for me), I told the truth. Not the truth about the Easter Bunny (that cat left the bag years ago), but the truth about Mom: she just wasn’t into it this year. For Clementine, this was no big deal: unless a holiday involves a personal visit from Billie Joe Armstrong, she’s really not that interested. For Clyde, however, it’s a different story. Clyde is all about the holidays. You name it: Cinco de Mayo, Labor Day, Columbus Day—he’s down for a party. (Which makes it even odder that he is the only child I know who doesn’t know when his own birthday is: all he knows for sure is that it is in the summer. I could fix this pretty easily, I know, but the schemer in me wants to leave it alone. After all, it’s not like, at age eight, he really needs to know when his birthday is. It’s not like he is going to be carded.) And so I bribed him.

Look, I explained, here’s the deal. Are you willing to trade Easter—all of it: eggs, candy, little plastic toys, the whole thing—for one tangible piece of merchandise? In other words, are you willing to be bribed?

His answer was a resounding ‘yes.’

Which is why Clyde and I celebrated Easter by going to Target and picking out a new PS3 game. It doesn’t have any rabbits. Or chocolate. Or even eggs. On the other hand, it does have lots and lots of zombies. And it even has a two player option, so that we can kill them as a family. And really, isn’t that what the holiday is really all about?

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You may remember that a few weeks ago I wrote column about how my daughter, Clementine, started calling me a fascist, and how I finally called her out on the whole thing by demanding that she either prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was, indeed, a fascist, or else come up with some other epithet for me. You may also recall how she quite handily proved that I am, in fact, a fascist of the first order. Well, if you don’t remember it, I can assure you: she certainly does.

Which is why ever since that column came out I have been searching for the perfect thing to call her in return. (Before you start sending me your suggestions, let me add this: I am looking for something similar to call her. Something equally inscrutably insulting. And, above all, something printable.)

And so, this morning, when I tripped over the backpack that she had left lying in the middle of my bedroom doorway, my first thought was actually relief. Finally, I thought, now I know what to call Clementine. (Okay, maybe that wasn’t my first thought. But it did come along eventually.) Yes, gazing about at the archipelago of Clementine’s personal effects that littered my house from one end to the other, I finally knew just what to call Clementine: an Imperialist.

That’s right, I said it: Clementine is a dirty rotten Imperialist.

I looked it up just to be sure, and there it was, in black and white—Imperialism: the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and domination of a nation, especially by direct territorial acquisition. That’s Clementine all over again.

In fact, now that I think about it, she’s always been something of an Imperialist. Of course, in her early days it wasn’t so bad: back then she was just interested in acquiring neighboring territories—those sparse, barren lands that she considered “unpeopled.” (In other words, lands occupied by her little brother, Clyde.) And her process of acquisition was more along the lines of benign neglect than a direct overthrow: she would simply let the contents of her own room bubble out of her doorway and creep across the hall into Clyde’s room, until eventually there wasn’t even a way for Clyde to access his own territories. (At that point I would usually step in and grant Clyde a permanent easement so that he didn’t end up as a refugee in my room.)

As she grew older, however, her Imperialism became more overt, and soon she was establishing colonies all over the world (of my house). First there was the Bathroom Invasion, then the Dining Room Table Incursion, and, eventually, the Couch Conquer. However, since none of these invasions affected me directly, I was willing to let them slide; after all, she did promise to quit claiming new territory (right after she claimed the Sudentenland—er, I mean the couch).

But then it happened: she invaded the Fatherland (and the Motherland, too!). I came home one day and found schoolbooks and papers strewn across my bed, strawberry hulls under my pillow, and a half-empty quart-size yogurt container on the floor. And I knew the real invasion had began.

Then, when I went to return her territorial markers to her room, it became clear to me why she was attempting to expand her reach: poor resource management, short-sighted stewardship and the inability to make a bed had obviously been the ruin of her own homeland. And so, faced with the choice of either changing her ways or eking out a subpar existence in a wasteland filled with cracker crumbs and dirty socks, she had taken the third way, and instead decided to go forth and conquer (and subdue) new lands.

It’s kind of like “Avatar,” but without all of the blue cat people. And with a lot more dirty socks.

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Death and Taxes

So my husband and I were doing our taxes the other day when we had an experience that probably doesn’t happen to most people filling out the long form: we laughed. And not just a chuckle or a snort, either—I’m talking about a full-on run-to-the-sink-and-spit-out-your-coffee-before-you-spray-it-everywhere type laugh. We laughed.

And before you ask: no, we weren’t giggling over the farm investment earnings form (we’re not that big of nerds). Or the foreign employment form. Or even the gambling wins and losses form. On the contrary, the form that caused us such amusement was the worksheet for taking the child tax credit, specifically, question number two: “Does this person provide at least half of their own support?”

It was really my fault that we laughed: I read the question out loud to my husband. After we had both recovered sufficiently enough to speak he had asked me, “Is there a box underneath it marked ‘Hell no’?”

“No,” I replied, “there’s just a plain ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

“Hmm,” he said, “Well, if that’s the only option, then I guess we’d better go ahead and check it.” And then we went back to filling out the forms.

Suffice it to say, that was the last time that evening we laughed.

But the absurdity of the question—does this person provide half of their own support—stayed with me, as did the absurdity of only receiving a $1000 tax credit per child. What, exactly, is a thousand bucks supposed to cover? Shoelaces? (We go through those by the gross: when keeping your shoelaces tied is still one of the great mysteries of your life, it doesn’t take long to walk a pair of shoelaces to death.)

I know, I know: after thirteen years I should be better versed in how expensive kids are—but, in my defense, I have to say that when my kids were younger things really were different. In fact, until my kids were in school I never understood what people were talking about when they complained about how expensive children were—what, I thought, was supposed to be so expensive about having children? They eat hardly anything, wear hand-me-downs, and don’t even need their own seat on an airplane. A dog costs more than kids do. Then my kids got older, and everything changed.

While they still eat practically nothing (well, one of them, at least: Clyde, AKA “The Merciless Eating Machine,” is a subject for another column), that doesn’t mean that they don’t still cost a fortune to feed. That’s what happens when you live with someone who takes the entire bag of tortillas into her room, eats one, and then leaves the rest sitting out to get dry and hard. Or pours a bowl of cereal (making sure to give the floor gods their tithe) and then leaves the milk on the counter for the next six hours. Or opens a can of refried beans, heats up two tablespoons, and then tosses the rest of the can into the trash.

And while they still wear hand-me-downs (when I can get them), there aren’t enough children in the entire world to hand down the jackets and gloves that would be needed to replace the ones they’ve lost this winter. (I have a feeling that not all of the color that appears in my yard this spring will be from the crocuses and daffodils.)

The days of flying in our laps are over, too. Which means the price of every trip must be multiplied by four. For what I pay for airfare these days, I could fly first class solo—and don’t think I haven’t done the math to check that one out.

Still, I suppose I should be grateful that they are even worth a thousand bucks once a year. Yeah, right: now that’s a laugh.

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Apocalyptic Know How

It was while reading the newspaper the other morning that I finally found the validation I craved.

“See,” I said, gloating in triumph as I shoved the newspaper underneath Clementine’s nose, “now you have to admit it.” Unfortunately, a bowl of cereal was already underneath her nose—as well as under her forehead, mouth, and chin (have I mentioned that Clementine is not a morning person?)—and so cereal flew everywhere. I cleaned up the mess, then held the (now dripping) newspaper out again.

“Admit it,” I said. “Go on. Just admit it.”

She opened one eye and glared at the headline briefly before sinking back down to the table again. “Fine,” she mumbled, “I’ll admit it. You’re not the craziest Mom in the world. There. I said it. Can I sleep now?”

“Sure,” I said. “For thirty more seconds. Then it’s time to leave for school.” And then I tucked the newspaper article about the home-schooling, gun-toting, survivalist Mom away for safe keeping; you never know when you’ll need to prove your sanity to your children again.

Well, not exactly sanity. More like a lesser degree of insanity. That’s okay: after a while you take what you can get. Like, for instance, the validation that comes from reading about other “interesting” Moms. Because here’s the thing: if my kids think that I’m crazy because I ask them to finish one box of cereal before they open up another one, what must they think of the woman who makes her children share a bedroom so that her “spare” bedroom can be converted into a giant pantry filled with hundreds of boxes of cereal they’re not allowed to eat? (Why my own cereal rules? Because otherwise the first box will never be finished. For some reason, in my house at least, the last five pieces of cereal in the box somehow become sullied and impure; they are the runt flakes of the cereal world. The whole grain Nerdios. And, as such, it seems that they will not be eaten, but will instead languish in the bottom of the box forever unless I insist—completely non-crazily—that they be eaten first.)

Regardless of my impeccable reasoning, however, my “cereal box finishing demands” have classified me, in my children’s eyes, as crazy. But now, the next time it comes up (and it will, I’m sure), I can just pull out my handy “Survivalist Mom” article and say, “Well, what about this mom? She makes her children sleep in bunk beds so that she can fill up an entire room with cereal. Who’s the crazy one now?”

“You are,” they’ll reply.

“Ah, but who’s the craziest of them all?”

And they’ll be forced to admit it. “She is.”

I’m telling you, this article is golden. Besides the cereal room, there’s stuff in there about how she’s downloaded all of their textbooks onto a kindle (“Just because there was an apocalypse doesn’t mean you can get out of learning long division.”), and how she makes her kids spend their weekends practicing their rifle shooting so that when society collapses they’ll still be able to get fresh meat.

My only problem now, though, is how to keep the newspaper clipping pristine—nothing deflates your argument faster—and says “crazy” louder—than having an old, yellow newspaper clipping. I know: I’ll keep it in one of their baby books—they’re practically empty anyway. That way I can still pull the article out years from now and ask “Who’s the crazy one now?” Of course, by that time they’ll probably just back away slowly and whisper, “Not you Mom—not you.”

That’s okay—as long as they’re still finishing each box of cereal.

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The Dream King

When your kids are younger, the words you most dread hearing in the middle of the night are “I had an accident.” (Come to think of it, those are the words you most dread hearing when they get older, too—the only difference being that when they’re younger those words are usually followed with “Can I sleep with you?” as opposed to “And the police want to talk to you.”)

Usually, though, for a brief period (in between bed-wetting and joy-riding) there will come a time when you can relax; when you know that the worst thing you will wake up to in the morning is “Mom, the cable’s out.” Well, maybe you can relax: me, I still lie in bed at night dreading those four little words, only in my case they’re not “I had an accident;” they’re “I had a dream.”

Look, don’t get me wrong: I love my son, Clyde. I love listening to him talk, and I love hearing about his day at school. But my god, if I have to hear one more play-by-play about what he dreamed last light I might end up hanging myself. I can’t help it. I’m a writer. That means I like my stories to have a narrative flow: a beginning, a middle, and an end. I like there to be character, conflict, and resolution. I like there to be a point to it all, and barring all of that, I like there to at least be a scene with a shirtless Rob Pattinson.

But Clyde’s dreams contain none of those things. (At least, they don’t contain the first few things—I can only assume there’s no naked Rob Pattinson running around, but maybe I’m just in denial). Instead, his dreams contain a lot of “And then this one guy—the guy I told you about—did I tell you about him? He’s a general. He drives a tank. And then he says to his tank—because his tank can talk, and it’s purple, and one time. . .”

Usually, at some point in Clyde’s dream monologue (somewhere around the second or third hour), he’ll turn to me in exasperation and say, “Are you listening?” and it’s all I can do not to scream out “No! I’m not, because what you’re saying is really, really boring.” But I don’t. (Usually.) Because I know that one day he’ll grow out of this stage, and that then I’ll miss these interminable recitations. (Probably.)

But here’s my fear: what if I don’t? What I mean is, what if I never get the chance to miss them, because they don’t go away? It’s possible: Clyde really likes theater—what if he eventually turns his three hour non-narrative dream rambling into some kind of off-off-off Broadway show?

I can see it now: An Evening With Clyde. And there’ll I’ll be, trapped in the front row as Clyde performs an interpretive dance explaining how he really feels about Modern Warfare 3. Or he’ll open up a box of spaghetti and slowly pull out each piece of pasta, snapping it in half as he describes one failed love affair after another. Or he’ll hand out mirrors and ask the audience to look at their tongues for three hours while he talks about what it means to “talk.” (Can you tell I have a problem with theater? You try growing up in a house with an older sister who’s also a theater major and we’ll see who emerges unscathed.)

Still, I know it’s not fair to Clyde for me to jump to conclusions; after all, he might not end up in theater at all. He might grow up to be a normal, boring adult—one who has really long, and really boring dreams. That he loves to talk about with other people. Especially, and unfortunately, me.

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