Monthly Archives: May 2011


When I was in college, I had a roommate that was fanatical about the bathroom. After every shower she would wash down the walls, clean the mirror, scrub the sink and mop the floors. I wasn’t sure if she was bathing in there or doing surgery (and, given the amount of time she kept the room occupied, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to find out she was routinely performing several open-heart surgeries in a row). The thing about her, though, was that as neat as she was about the bathroom, when it came to the kitchen she was a complete slob: moldy dishes in the sink, uncovered food in the fridge, ancient withered apples hanging in baskets by the door. It was like she was working with lasers and microscopes in her pristine bathroom surgery, while in her ramshackle witch’s hut of a kitchen she was still prescribing leeches.

So which was it? Was she a neat freak, or was she a slob? Felix or Oscar? I think the truth of the matter was that, just like the rest of us, she was a little bit of both. She was a Felix in the bathroom, and an Oscar in the kitchen.

It’s not that odd, really: like Whitman said, we are all vast; we all contain multitudes. In other words, we all are good at some things, and not so good at others. It makes the news when a space shuttle pilot is also a violin virtuoso for the very reason that it is so unusual and unexpected. Why then, if it is such a given that no one should be expected to be good at everything, is there such a double standard when it comes to being a mother?

I have never met any mothers who are good at everything; conversely, I have never met any mothers who did not feel incredibly bad about this. It’s ridiculous. I would bet you anything that most plumbers don’t go to bed at night castigating themselves for not being better at dentistry, and yet most mothers do the equivalent of that very thing each and every night. The ones who are good at coaching soccer kick themselves for not sending homemade cupcakes to the school party, and the ones who can knit an entire sweater in two weeks beat themselves up for not planning a two week summer vacation at the same time.

The worst part about it is that it isn’t the kids who are making these demands; on the contrary, we do it to ourselves. I have yet to meet a single child who preferred Beef Stroganoff over Hamburger Helper, and yet on those nights when it is all we can do to make sure the hamburger actually had time to cook all the way through before we dumped the cheese powder on top, we act as if our kids are sitting in the dining room with their little blue notebooks, trying to decide whether or not we are going to keep our one Michelin star.

It would be so easy to blame Martha Stewart and her ilk for this phenomena, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this was the case with mothers long before the Food Network was on the air. I certainly remember my own mother muttering under her breath often enough about “goddamned June Cleaver.” And, as far as I know, her mother probably complained about some perfect mother on a radio show or something. (And before that, there were always perfect mothers in books.)

Maybe it’s time to let go of the idea of the perfect mother—or at least the mother who’s perfect at everything. And if we have to worship some fake mom on TV, let’s at least let’s make her someone the rest of us could possibly one day be.

Personally, I’m picking Roseanne.

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Extreme Sports

The first point I need to make is this: never, not once in my life, have I thought that I would end up involved in extreme sports. For one thing I never really had the opportunity: I grew up out on a dirt road, so skateboarding was out of the question. And I was eight hours from the nearest ocean, so you could forget about surfing. It’s true, I do live in a mountain town now, but unfortunately (or, depending on how you look at it, fortunately), I moved here after I had discovered how nice it is to have the full use of my knees and ankles, and so snowboarding and mountain biking were never my thing, either.

Not that any of this has ever bothered me; in fact, I’m quite happy to have reached middle age with all of my cartilage and extremities intact—especially since my deductible has risen at nearly the same rate as my age. Imagine my chagrin, then, when I realized that I had not, in fact, escaped from the icy/hot hand of the extreme sports reaper, but instead had only delayed the monster from finding me for a few years.

This is because of my foolish choice to involve myself in the most extreme sport of all: parenting. To be precise, Flagstaff parenting. To be even more precise, springtime Flagstaff parenting, with all of the sunburn, frostbite, windchill and heat prostration that that entails (and usually in that order.)

I know, I know: I could have it a lot worse. Climbers on the face of Everest probably face harsher conditions, but at least climbers on the face of Everest get some kind of psychic reward for reaching the top—what do we get for sitting out in the cold for an hour and a half at soccer practice? Grumpy kids, fast food for dinner, and the announcement, half an hour past bedtime, that there is a ton of homework yet to done. Math homework.

And sure, the guy who skied all the way to the South Pole probably faced conditions a little bit rougher than the stinging balls of ice I got pelted with one year during the annual “Easter Egg Hunt” (more like a sugar-fueled feeding frenzy, with little plastic eggs taking the place of chum), but then again, he will probably be able to tell stories about his adventures for the rest of his life. In fact, he’ll probably never have to buy his own drinks again: one look at the frostbitten remains of his fingers and people will be lining up to buy him shots and hear his stories. That’s not likely to happen to me when I tell people about the time I sat on the bleachers in a skirt during a Little League double header and nearly got frostbite on my ass.

I will also admit that trekking to the top of Kilimanjaro might be a little more complicated than organizing a soccer snack list; after all, it does involve hiring (and paying) something like forty porters per climber. But at least you only have to pay them in cash—and you only have to make that payment once. It’s not as if you’re expected to provide each and every one of them with their own juice box and (gluten free) snack every single day. (On a side note: at what age can we legitimately stop bringing snacks? At this rate I feel like the transition from juice box and granola bar to condoms and breath mints is going to occur all in the same week.)

Truth be told, however, I would gladly pay a thousand juice boxes a day to escape the one aspect of springtime Flagstaff parenting that is inarguably worse than Everest, the South Pole, and Kilimanjaro all rolled into one: the wind.

It just doesn’t get much more extreme than that.

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Humor writer David Sedaris once wrote a story about his attempts to solve a persistent household mystery when he was a teenager. It seems that someone in his house had developed the obnoxious habit of using the bathroom towels as toilet paper. The hardest part, he said, was that everyone was a suspect, up to and including his 90-year-old grandmother. In fact, the only person who wasn’t on his list was his brother—not because his brother was beyond such a diabolical act, but rather because all of the soiled towels had been neatly folded and placed back on the towel rack, and he knew that his brother was incapable of such a thing.

The first time I read that story my daughter Clementine was still an infant, and so I laughed. The next time I read it I only chuckled, because by then I had two kids, and the thought of someone using a bath towel as a bidet aid wasn’t that far-fetched. This last time I read it, however, I didn’t laugh at all, because by then I had realized that the true horror of that story doesn’t lie in the fact that the towels were used for nefarious purposes, but rather in the resigned way Mr. Sedaris accepted the fact that his brother was never going to be able to hang up a bath towel. I didn’t laugh that time because I realized with a sinking feeling that he could have been describing either one of my own children, and in his resigned acceptance, he could have been describing me.

It’s true: I’ve managed to bring two people into this world who think that towel racks are some kind of freaky modern bathroom art, and that it is their job to show the world the beauty of these art pieces by methodically removing the layers of terrycloth that some Philistine has so callously covered them over with.

Or maybe they’re just slobs. Either way, the outcome is the same: I end up washing more towels than the Holiday Inn. The washing is necessary because the two of them are never content to just throw the towel on the floor and leave it there—they must also trample it, as if the towel, having come into contact with water, is now the Wicked Witch of the West, and must have the bejesus stomped out of it.

It’s true that I could just go in after them and hang up the towels myself, thereby saving myself all of the extra washing. Here’s the thing, though: while in some bathrooms, being trampled on the floor isn’t necessarily a death sentence (or rather, a wash sentence), this is definitely not the case with my mine. For one thing, my bathroom is so small that the toilet is right next to the shower; for another, it contains a boy who frequently loses both aim and focus while standing in front of said toilet. Factor those two things into the equation and you’ll understand why I don’t want to reuse a towel that has been whipped about on the floor. In fact, if anybody were to hang one of those towels back up, neatly, you’d probably have a situation similar to the one that took place in the Sedaris household.

Come to think about it, maybe that was the answer to the Sedaris house mystery: maybe it wasn’t one person who was committing the crime knowingly, but rather two working unwittingly together. Maybe the brother (who Sedaris claims would have been the best suspect if not for the neat condition of the towels) was soiling the linen, and it was the grandmother, the passive aggressive neat freak, who came along after him and hung the offending towels back up.

It could have happened that way. Or maybe, like my house, the mother just had it in for all of them.

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