Monthly Archives: August 2011


One of the perils of walking around with green and purple hair is that you soon forget that you are walking around with green and purple hair—or at least I do. This means that when people look at you in horror, amusement, disgust, or even approval, you automatically think that it is YOU they are directing these looks at, and not at your hair. You then take offense/feel smug (depending on the look) for the next twenty minutes or so, until you catch sight of yourself in a mirror or store window and realize, “Oh yeah. I have green and purple hair.”

Another peril of green and purple hair is that when you first get home from the salon your husband will look up from his book, sigh, and then go back to reading, all without saying a single word. But since this has been a peril associated with almost every new haircut you have ever tried, it, at least, it is a familiar one.

Surprisingly enough, one thing that is not a peril is regret: I don’t for a minute regret my new green and purple hair. Not because it’s so rad (although it is), and not because it helps give other people immediate notice that there is something not quite right about me (it does—and there is), but rather because my green and purple hair represents months and months of me not nagging, and despite what my family thinks, I really don’t like to nag.

Here’s what happened: about halfway through this last school year I realized that, unlike her uber-nerd of a mother, Clementine was never going to be a grade grubber. Instead, just like the pole vaulter who always seemed to just barely skim over the top of the bar, Clementine was always going to be quite content to just skim the top of the bottom when it came to grades. It was almost impressive, really, how closely she is able to skim that bar—somehow, she always seemed to know just what the bare minimum was and do that and nothing more. If she needed to get an 83 on the final exam in order to pull a 70 in the class, an 83 is what she would get.

Which sounds fine until you realize that one point over is located perilously close to one point under, and that all it was ever going to take to blow her from one side to the other was one good puff of wind.

Hence the green and purple hair.

The deal I made with Clementine was this: if she would make more of an effort to stay away from the edge—to jump not just over the bar, but beyond it—I would let her give me a makeover.

There were limits, of course. Nothing involving make-up, or clothes, because what would be the point of that? Those would only be temporary changes, and, like the change I was asking her to make, I wanted my change to be permanent. Or at least as permanent as possible without the use of a needle.

And besides, I really do like getting my hair cut. And, as it turns out, bleached. And dyed. And then dyed again. But of course, even if I didn’t, I would still gladly submit to the process every school year in if it brought the same results. Of course, since each year of school gets a little harder than the last, by all rights my makeovers should get more extreme as well. Which means that, technically, by the time she gets to college, there might actually be needles involved.

All I can hope is that she picks a place where it doesn’t show. But if she doesn’t, and four years from now you see me walking around with a Mike Tyson-style facial tattoo, you’ll know why.

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Delightfully Disobedient

When my daughter Clementine, was still a toddler, my husband and I were always amazed at the casual way she would flout our rules.

“No more cookies,” we would say, and (foolishly) consider the matter closed. Meanwhile, she would shrug her shoulders, stare straight at us, and then defiantly reach out for another cookie.
“No,” we’d say again, plucking the cookie from her hand. “No.”

There would be a scream, and then one of us would put the cookies away while the other one carried a protesting Clementine over to the timeout corner, where she would be given the first of what usually turned out to be many, many timeouts. It was usually sometime between the fifth and the tenth timeout that my husband would look at me and say, in his best Gomez Addams voice, “She’s so delightfully disobedient.”

“Yes,” I would agree, taking the Morticia role. “Yes, she is.”

Flash forward ten years or so, and the protesting howls from the timeout corner have been replaced by slamming doors and language that could make a sailor blush—or at least take notes. It should also be noted that my husband rarely utters the words “delightfully disobedient” anymore—instead, the words that seem to come out of his mouth most often are “How many more days until she turns 18?” and “Wow—I don’t think I’ve ever heard those two words put together in quite that combination before.”

And yet, the truth is that even though we don’t often say it out loud anymore, in our heads we are still thinking the same thing: “How delightfully disobedient.”

I know it must seem strange to wish for a disobedient child—kind of like wishing for an unfaithful spouse—but the truth is, obedience is overrated. Blind obedience is not very far removed from being an unthinking follower, and while this trait might seem desirable in the two year old you are trying to keep out of the cookie jar, it is dangerous in the extreme in the twenty-two year old you are trying to keep out of the cult.

It’s not that I’m saying that all obedience is bad—as my friend Michelle used to tell her high school students, sometimes you just have to be the pink poodle (meaning that, sometimes you just have to know when it’s time to play the game). But it’s also good to know when the game is optional.

That, I think, is what it is important for us, as parents, to teach. Not blind obedience, but rather, selective obedience. I’m not talking about the kind of selective obedience that only makes you stop for a red light when you think there might be a cop around (because stopping for a red light is always a good idea), but rather the kind of selective obedience that refuses to sentence a man to ten years in prison for jaywalking, because that’s what the judge told you to do.

Voltaire famously said that if you can make a man believe absurdities, then you can make him commit atrocities. I think the corollary to that should be that if you can make a man (or a child) believe in your own absolute authority, then you can make them believe in your own absolute infallibility. And absolute infallibility doesn’t exist anywhere—not in governments, not in churches, and certainly not in families.

I still think that we were right to stop Clementine from eating another cookie when she was two, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always be right about everything, and it’s good that she questions our rules every now and then—good that she’s still so “delightfully disobedient.” Good for her, and good for us.

Or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves. In our best Gomez Addams voices.

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Swamp Thing

For the first few years of my daughter, Clementine’s, life, we lived in a house without a bathtub; this meant that my maternal paranoia about her drowning during a bath was somewhat muted. Somewhat, but not completely—as anyone who has ever bathed an infant can tell you, the fear of them slipping under the water if you so much as even blink is an ever present fear. In fact, I don’t think it’s something you ever quite get over—my youngest is now ten, and if things get too quiet during his bath time I’ll start banging on the door, picturing him somehow wrapped up in the loofah cord and held underneath six inches of water, like one of those bizarre deaths in the “Final Destination” movies. (As a mother, I had to stop watching those movies when every single one of those deaths started looking plausible to me. “See,” I would always say whenever one came out, “I’m not being overprotective. You can die in a freak mining accident, train derailment, elevator fall, etc.”)

Given, then, my somewhat unreasonable fear about bathtub drowning, you’d think that I would have been happy when Clementine started preferring the shower to the bath. After all, no one has ever drowned in the shower, have they? Well . . .

Maybe not the participant, but as far as innocent bystanders are concerned, I have to say that death by drowning is still very much an option. This is because, no matter now much we beg and plead (in our bubbly little drowning voices), Clementine cannot seem to take a shower without flooding out the entire house.

The problem arises from the fact that, in her world, there is no use in preparing for, or trying to prevent, the worst—the worst is inevitable, and when we fight against it we only kick out at our own bleak destinies. (This is the “what’s the use of anything” school of thought, first invented by Nihlists before being perfected by teenage girls. And yes, it is an actual school; their uniforms are black on black.)

What this means for the rest of us is that Clementine sees absolutely no reason to ever attempt to keep the water inside of the shower, because all such striving is ultimately futile, and hopeless, and pointless. Worse yet, any such attempt on her part—such as actually putting the shower curtain inside the tub when she showers—would be tantamount to somehow denying this heartfelt philosophy, and from then ultimately surrendering to the demands of our corrupt society. It’s just a shower curtain, I know, but still.

If I was richer, of course, she would have a room with her own bathroom, and I wouldn’t have to bear witness to what the continued effects of hopelessness + Suave Strawberry Essence were. But unfortunately, I’m not, and she doesn’t, and so I get to experience the wrath of the swamp thing every time I go into the bathroom after her. Which, I admit, isn’t that often—my lungs just can’t take the damp. Also, I was kind of hoping that if I left it alone—if I let things reach the absolute limits of squelchy, fetid, disgustingness—that eventually she would make the change herself.

That’s right: it was my hope (a foolish one, I now see) that she, herself, would eventually see the error of her ways—that she would eventually grow tired of using towels that smelled like ripe cheese and had mushrooms growing from their corners. But I must have underestimated her capacity for suffering, or at least her acceptance of it. Or maybe she just really likes Spanish Moss. In any case, I must admit that my path of passive resistance has been an abject failure, doomed from the start.

Maybe those Nihlists have a point after all.

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The other day, when I was looking through the ingredients list for kosher marshmallows (don’t ask), I came across something called “isinglass.” I didn’t know what it was, but it had such a pleasant ring to it that I thought that it must be something delightful. Something like the frost that forms on the inside of your window on snowy Christmas mornings. Or maybe, since it was obviously some kind of food, it was a type of delicate sugar that makes marshmallows super fluffy and soft.

Curious, I looked the word up in the “Food Lover’s Companion,” where I saw, to my complete horror and disgust, that ‘isinglass’ is actually just another name for fish bladders. In particular, sturgeon bladders. (I don’t know why that makes it worse, but it does. And also, on another note, I really have to give it up for the cooks of yore. I consider myself to be a fairly frugal cook, but I’ve got nothing on the first woman who picked a bunch of fish bladders out of the trash and said to herself, “It seems such a shame to waste these; surely I can use them for something.”)

Once I finally got over my disgust (It didn’t take too long: I think my exact thoughts were, Meh, I’m sure I’ve eaten worse) I started thinking instead about the curious way in which we name things: the way that we often give the most disgusting products some of the nicest sounding names. And then, for perhaps the first time ever, I thought that maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea, and that maybe, instead of regarding the process of euphemistically naming things with suspicion and disgust, I should be embracing that very idea for my own life. After all, I was fine with the idea of fish bladders in my kosher marshmallows before I knew what ‘isinglass’ was. (And for all you out there who are feeling smug because you don’t have to eat kosher marshmallows, I have one word for you: gelatin. As in that stuff that is made out of hooves.)

So anyway, with my newfound tolerance for euphemisms firmly in place, I decided that what I really needed to do was to come up with suitably cheerful names for the disgusting substances in my own life; once I did that I could be as happy as I was the day before I found out about the isinglass. (Which, admittedly, wasn’t all that happy, but still. If ignorance is bliss, then willful ignorance must be even better. Or something like that.)

Keeping in mind that the best way to start a new project is to simply begin, I immediately decided that from that point on there will no longer be any such thing as mold encrusted cereal bowls stashed under the beds and couches in my house. Instead, there will be bowls filled with oatessences.

In the same spirit, there will no longer be little yellow dots of urine on the toilet seat: rather, there shall be bladder dots.

The fur that accumulates on a toothbrush head that has been lost under the bed for two months, and placed back, unwashed, in the cup on the bathroom sink? Dentafuzz.

The dirty socks that are so sweat-encrusted they are hard on the bottom? Pedicrumbs.

The spoons that have become glued to the table by a combination of spittle and milk? Cuttlebuts.

Perhaps, if I stick to this new program long enough, I can even come up with a euphemism for that time of life when you finally escape all of the above mentioned little bits and pieces of disgustingness, only to willingly go back into the pit once more for someone else. Oh wait, I think there already is a euphemism for that. It’s called “parenting.”

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Road Warriors

By the time you read this, I should be in the middle of doing something I swore I would never do again. No, I’m not having another child, although that might actually be a less painful option. I am going to drive for eight hours straight in a car with my children. With my children, I might add, on the inside of the car.

I know, I know: after the last road trip I swore I would never do this again. After the last road trip I swore that the only way I would ever travel more than 200 miles with both of my children in the same vehicle was if they could be kept more than twenty feet apart from each other the whole time, and, up until now, this has been a promise I have managed to keep. Since the last ill-fated road trip we have only travelled on planes, and since I’m the one booking the seats, I have always been able to get the sets as far apart from each other as possible without one child sitting in the cockpit and the other in the rear galley. Actually, it is easier to do this than you might think: it is a simple matter of, upon check-in, when the ticket agent asks you if you would like to have all of your seats together, responding with a resounding “HELL, no.” They usually understand once you explain to them that it’s a safety issue: if you are forced to sit next to your bickering children for the next several hours there’s no way you would be helping anyone with their oxygen mask if trouble should happen to arrive.

A few years ago I had the perfect solution to the bickering on car trips problem, and it was, if I do say so myself, brilliant. I simply bought a HUGE bag of candy at the beginning of the trip, and then told the kids that the entire bag would all be theirs at the end of the trip. That’s all—no threats, no promises. Just that. And then, the first time they started to bicker, I grabbed a big handful of the candy and threw it out the window. (Of course, there was the problem of littering—if only I had been able to find candy in biodegradable wrappers.)

Anyway, that was a great solution while it lasted, but the problem is that now that my kids are older, candy doesn’t really hold their attention the way it once did. And there’s no way I’m going to go down the road throwing out handfuls of video games, CDs, and cold hard cash. (Although sometimes it feels like that’s exactly what they do.)

Luckily, though, I recently came up with another idea, just as brilliant as the one before, and just in time for this trip. And even better, this idea doesn’t cost me anything at all, except maybe for a few bottles of hydrogen peroxide to get out the blood stains.
That’s right: I’m going to pick up a hitchhiker. Not just any hitchhiker, mind you, but a scary one. One that, if you saw him waiting by the side of the road you would think, “Who would ever pick up that guy?”
Well, now you know who would—me.

Just think about what a powerful discouragement to fighting having a potential murderer in the backseat would be. Every time someone started to bicker, or whine, all I would have to do is say, “Now, now kids—you don’t want to upset Mr. STABBY,” And, after a few little cuts (just minor ones, I’m sure—no arteries or organs), there would most definitely be peace and quiet in the back seat. Or at least quiet.

And, on another positive note, if things went terribly wrong, unlike candy wrappers, bodies are always biodegradable.

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