Monthly Archives: December 2011

Bad Boss

Recently, a young friend of mine made his first entry into the world of full time work. This was the beginning of many painful realizations for him, including smaller than expected paychecks, brutally early mornings (to a teenager, anything before ten is inhumane), and mentally unstable bosses. It was the last part of the equation that we talked about the most, though, because while paychecks grow (hopefully) and internal clocks can be reset, the reality of the awful boss is something that has to be endured in one form or another for the rest of your life. This prompted a discussion between us as to the different types of terrible bosses, and whether it is worse to have a boss who is unreasonable, unstable, demanding and needy all of the time, or to have one who can turn on the charm just long enough each day to keep you coming back for more, but who is, at their core, just as unreasonable, unstable, demanding and needy as the rest of them.

I was of the opinion that a partially charming boss was better, but that in the end it really didn’t matter: you still needed to treat even the best boss with the caution with which you would treat a pre-menstrual girlfriend, and always be ready to duck those plates that got unexpectedly thrown at the back of your head. (In both cases, the plates in question hopefully being of the verbal sort.) He was of the opinion that they were both equally bad.

We never did reach a conclusion—I said that he was too sensitive, and he said that I had been beaten into obedient acceptance by age—but later, when I was relating the whole conversation to my husband, he pointed out that I had failed to warn my friend about the most demanding, most unreasonable, and clearly the neediest boss of all time: the infant.

“Don’t you remember?” he said. “It was nonstop: Ms. Wilson, can you come in here? I’ve soiled myself, followed by, Oh dear, I seem to have done it again—I guess I wasn’t finished after all. And even worse, There’s something I want; I don’t know what it is, but I know that I want it RIGHT NOW!”

It was true: I had forgotten how terrible it was to have an infant boss. Maybe that was why I could be so sanguine about bosses in general. It wasn’t, like I had asserted, that with age and experience I had gained enough perspective to know that even the worst boss is only temporary, or even as my young friend had asserted, that I was just old and beaten down, but rather a case of having been through the very worst boss ever, and, having come through it in (relatively) one piece, having a better take on the whole boss thing in general.

I’ve heard that Bill Gates has said that no matter how bad your worst high school teacher was, your first boss will be worse; not only do I think that he is correct in this assessment, but I think he needs to add the corollary “and no matter how bad your first boss is, your first child will be even worse than that.”

Maybe it’s just a matter of desensitizing ourselves to the pain—although, like the frog who doesn’t notice that the warm pot he’s sitting in is boiling until it’s too late—that particular desensitization might not necessarily be a good thing. Or it might be the best thing that ever happened to us. Who knows? Maybe there’s an evolutionary reason for the whole thing: maybe infants teach us to put up with abuse because when we have an infant is when we most need to keep our jobs.

Or maybe I’m just saying that because I’m old and beaten down.

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O, Tannenbaum II

There was a time in my life when I was very tolerant of cleaning up after others. I’m not just talking about before my kids were potty trained and I had to do things like change a diaper on a commuter train bathroom floor (the horror, the horror), but also back before my kids were born, when I had roommates who didn’t see the point of staggering all the way to the bathroom to puke—not every time, at least. But not anymore. Maybe it has something to do with age, or maybe it’s the fact that as the mom, the messes always seem to trickle down to me (literally), but as time has passed I have become less and less tolerant about cleaning up the messes of others. This is true for any mess, of course, but the messes I am particularly adverse to cleaning up lately are the ones involving bodily parts and/or bodily fluids.

Hey, drink all you want (is my motto)—just don’t come to my house when it’s time to puke. By the the same token, I’m glad that you have finally decided to attend to some personal hygiene issues; however, that doesn’t mean I want to find your fingernail clippings on my kitchen counter. And I shouldn’t even have to mention that the only place I want to find your urine (or for that matter, my own) is inside a toilet.

That’s not being unreasonable, is it? All I ask is that when you come to my house you keep your parts and your fluids to yourself. And if you can’t, well, then maybe you should’ve stayed out in the forest where you belong.

That’s right, I said forest. Because the “other” that I’m talking about here, and the one whose messes really get on my nerves lately, is none other than my yearly nemesis: the Christmas Tree.

You think your Uncle Bubba is bad with the way he chews off his fingernails and spits them on the floor? He’s nothing compared to a Christmas tree dropping its needles. At least Uncle Bubba only has ten fingers (well, nine actually—people named Bubba always seem to be missing one or two)—a Christmas tree has dozens of limbs. And when Uncle Bubba has a few too many PBRs and lets go, at least he was trying to make it to the bathroom. Or the back door. Or the kitchen sink. A Christmas tree will gleefully drop sap on the floor from the front door all the way to the spot you finally wedge it into.

And “wedge” really is the operative word here. Most people I know don’t live in houses that are big enough to contain a bit of shrubbery year round, which means the Christmas tree must occupy a spot that was formerly being used for something else—like the couch. Or a hall. This means that it is always in the way. Sure, Uncle Bubba gets in your way, too: but at least he will attempt to move when you are trying to carry in an armload of firewood—a Christmas tree will just stand there like an inanimate object.

I know, I know: supposedly, a Christmas tree is an inanimate object. The thing is, I have my doubts about that. There have been plenty of times when I have placed our tree securely in the stand, watered it for the night, and then went to bed, only to find it sprawled out on the living room floor come morning. It’s not in the forest anymore, so it’s not like the wind knocked it over.

This, of course, begs the question: “If the Christmas tree falls in the living room, and nobody’s there to see it, who has to clean it up?”

Never mind. I think I know the answer to that question already.

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In my family, we speak in movie quotes a lot. Other people might not understand, but my husband knows exactly what I mean when we go to an over-the-top birthday party and I say, “It’s all for you, Damian. All for you.” Just like I know what he means when someone wishes us a Merry Christmas and he says, “And a Happy New Year to you . . . in jail!” Sometimes our quotes don’t even make sense—we just like the way they sound. Which is why even in Flagstaff we will sometimes turn to one another and say, “I’ll meet you at the monorail!” (Don’t worry if you don’t recognize that one. The only reason it has any meaning to us is that we were both at the exact same state of sleep deprivation one afternoon when Clementine was a sleepless infant, and Storm said that line to the other X-Men. I guess you had to be there.)

At one time I was afraid that this part of our relationship was going to end—after all, I can probably count on one hand the number of times my husband and I have been able to watch a movie together since our kids were born. But then came the miracle of Netflix, and even though we still almost never get a chance to watch a movie together, we can still, given enough time, manage to watch the same movie in the same month. Which is how we discovered our new favorite line.

It’s from the Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman movie “Seven.” (Yeah, I know—I’m about a decade behind). Anyway, the line from “Seven” that we find ourselves using lately is “What’s in the box?” (For those of you who are also a decade behind, I won’t ruin it for you by telling you “what’s in the box,” but I will tell you this: it’s nasty.)

It’s not so much the line—the words themselves are fairly innocuous—but the way Brad Pitt delivers it. “What’s in the box?” he says in this pathetic, dread-filled whine, in a way that lets you know that he knows exactly “what’s in the box.” That’s the way my husband and I say it to each other when we have to undertake some potentially unpleasant task like cleaning out a school backpack that has just been “discovered” under the bed at the end of the summer, or going through the pockets of a pair of pants that have made it all the way through the washer and dryer with their load of leftover Halloween candy (semi) intact.

Or lately, it’s what we’ll say to each other when one of us has to go into Clementine’s room to collect the dishes. (This happens about once every two weeks—we usually wait until we are down to such a small number of spoons that people have begun to carry them around with them at all times, like they do in concentration camps.) Anyway, one of us will go in while the second will stay just outside the door, ready to render assistance if needed. (We’d like to use the fire department’s policy of two in/two out, but we’ve never been able to find another two people willing to do it with us.)

Almost always, at some point during the dish rescue operation, the “inside” parent will gasp in horror (we’ve learned not to scream—best not to wake the inhabitants). This is the cue for the other parent to ask, in their best Brad Pitt whine, “What’s in the box?”

This does two things: one, it lets the inside parent know that the outside parent is “with” them—in spirit, if not in body. And two: it allows us to make a joke about the situation. Which, in my house, is even more vital than spoons.

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Laundry Hour

The other day I made the decision that from that point on everyone in my house should be responsible for doing their own laundry: I was officially relinquishing my status as Laundry Slave. This, I thought, would do two things: one, it would make my life easier, and two, it would make our environmental impact smaller, if for no other reason than the fact that if Clementine had to start doing her own laundry our water bill would be cut in half.

Surely, I thought, if she was the one that had to do her own wash then she would see the folly of wearing every item of clothing she owned for five minutes once a day and then throwing it on the ground and trampling it for the rest of the week. Surely she would see what a complete and utter waste of time and resources that was, and perhaps even have her very own laundry epiphany, one where she stood next to the gigantic pile of laundry she managed to single-handedly create each and every week, shake her head sadly, and then proclaim, to all and sundry, “Never again, by God. Never again.”

Such were the hopeful thoughts that were going on in my head when Clementine first started doing her own laundry. And those hopeful thoughts continued until the day I came home and saw her washing one single t-shirt. I watched, horrified, as she then set that one shirt aside to pull out somebody else’s load of half-dried clothes from the dryer, dump them in the dirty clothes hamper, and then toss her single t-shirt in the dryer before turning it on high and walking away. Or at least attempt to walk away, before I stopped her to ask why she was only washing a single shirt.

“Because it’s the shirt I want to wear.”

“Yeah, but don’t you have any other laundry?”


I thought of how, if an interior designer were forced to describe her room, he would probably end up referring to her floor as being carpeted in “early 21st century t-shirt,” but instead of pointing out that dirty laundry, which was a few rooms away, I simply pointed to the dirty clothes hamper she had just filled to overflowing with the wet clothes from the dryer. “What about those?” I asked.

“I’ll put them back in the dryer when my shirt is dry.” From the way she said it I could tell that this idea had just occurred to her, but I let that pass, and instead concentrated on the issue at hand.

“I mean, what about those clothes on the bottom of the hamper. You could have put them in there with your shirt.”

She looked at the dirty clothes hamper, and then at me, her face incredulous with disgust. “But those clothes are Clyde’s. And besides that, they’re dirty.” I tried to explain the whole point of the washing machine to her—that you put dirty clothes in, and took clean clothes out, but she was having none of it.

The next morning I got up to the familiar smell of mildew, and traced it to the pile of wet clothes that were still mouldering in the laundry hamper. With a sigh I dumped them back into the washer, and announced a new rule: from now on, children were not to do their own laundry.

The funny thing was I felt good about this decision: after all, one, it would make my life easier, and two, it would reduce our environmental impact. And really: isn’t that what I had been going for in the first place?

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Over the years, new parents have often asked me what, if any, parenting advice I had to give: what they should do, what they should buy. Usually I would tell them three things: one, that parenting was going to be twice as hard as they had ever imagined; two, that it was also going to be twice as much fun; and three, that they shouldn’t let the salesman talk them into buying a lot of unnecessary crap.

Lately, however, I have come to the conclusion that this advice is no longer sufficient; that these days it is just too “pre-internet.” (Yes, there was a time before the internet. There was a time before we had round the clock coverage of every child-centered tragedy, before there were websites devoted to public schooling, charter schooling, home schooling, unschooling, and no schooling. Before we discovered, as a recent headline in The Onion summed up so well, that “Studies Now Show That Every Type of Parenting Produces Miserable, Lonely Adults.”)

Now, with all of this information available to us every minute of every day, if a new parent were to ask me my advice I would just tell them one thing: they’re wrong. Completely, utterly, 100%, wrong. About everything. And that they should probably get used to being wrong, because no matter what they do, or how they do it, they are going to be doing it wrong. And not only that, in all likelihood there is going to be somebody standing behind them in line at the grocery store who is all too willing to tell them just how wrong they are.

Or at the gym. Or the coffee shop. Or their nephew’s third birthday party. Any place, in fact, at which there is someone who has either raised a child, thought about raising a child, or once seen a picture of a child being raised on TV. In other words, anywhere.

There are very few other things we do in life where people feel so free to tell us when we are doing them wrong. If you get a new haircut, and it’s terrible, most people have the common decency to just ignore it. They don’t stop you on the street to say, “My cousin once got that exact same haircut; it looked terrible on her, too.”

You could argue, of course, that child-rearing is more important—and ultimately, affects more lives—than your typical bad haircut. And that’s true. But think of all of the things that are as important as how you raise your child, and that people still don’t feel free to comment on. Voting, for example. Even if you completely disagree with someone’s politics, it is still considered rude to ask them who they voted for and then call them a moron when they tell you. There is no such compunction when it comes to the decisions you make for your child. In fact, many people even consider it okay to ask you which intimate medical procedures your child has or has not had—and then tell you that you just made the wrong choice when you answer them. (Especially unhelpful after the procedure has just been done.) Sometimes I think that people confuse the adage “It takes a village to raise a child” with “It takes a committee”—or worse yet, “it takes a comment thread.”

So here’s my new idea—and an update on my parenting advice, as well. The next time a new parent asks me what I recommend they get for their newborn, I’m going to suggest that they get some of those bomber noise-blocking ear protectors that all of the hip babies are wearing at concerts these days. But I’m going to suggest that they get two pair: one for the baby, and one for themselves.

And that they both start wearing them absolutely everywhere.

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