Monthly Archives: November 2012


When I was a child, my favorite TV shows were always the detective dramas: Hart to Hart, Quincy, The Rockford Files—I loved them all. Even now, as an adult, detective shows are always my first choice when it comes to mindless TV watching; in fact, the last time I was in the hospital the nurses eventually had to come in and tell me that it was time to turn off the TV and go to sleep. “But Law and Order is on,” I protested. “Law and Order is always on,” they replied. “Now go to sleep.”

You might think then, given my deep and abiding love for mysteries, that I would have become a detective myself, but no: I decided to opt for a profession that not only gave me the chance to solve an unlimited number of mysteries, but also didn’t involve all of that tedious paperwork and rules. That’s right: I decided to become a mother instead.

Being a mother is very much like being a detective. First there is that whole disagreeable business of having to figure out not only when, but how you are being lied to. (For some reason it is not enough to merely catch the liar in the middle of the lie—apparently, the rules are written so that in order to receive full credit you must also be able to demonstrate how you knew that you were being lied to. This is known as the “show your work” rule of lie detection, and involves strategies such as placing a crisp twenty dollar bill inside a violin case in order to prove that, yes, in fact, you do know for sure that the violin hasn’t been practiced all week.)

Then there are the missing person’s cases. Of course, unlike TV detectives, you’re usually not searching for an actual person (although sometimes you are), but rather a vital and missing piece of information. Still, just like a TV detective, the first thing you must determine is whether or not the person (information) is missing because it doesn’t want to be found, or simply because it has lost its way. For example: in the case of a grade report, the object in question might not want to be found. On the other hand, a piece of paper asking that everyone in class show up with a packet of frozen squid the next morning probably just went astray. (Okay, maybe not frozen squid—maybe a box of dry erase markers. The point is, however, that both items are equally difficult to obtain at six in the morning, which is when you will be receiving said paper—unless, of course you did your detective style sleuthing the night before.)

Before I had kids, I thought that the only reason I would ever be snooping through their drawers or listening in on their phone calls was because I was trying to catch them up to no good. Running a drug cartel from their closet, say, or passing nuclear secrets to the North Koreans, perhaps. Now, however, I realize that the main reason mothers snoop is to find out the good stuff. “Your child has been invited to an awards banquet tomorrow,” for instance, is a harder piece of information to obtain than “Your child needs to be in court six weeks from today.” They say that bad news is halfway around the world before good news even has a chance to put its shoes on, but I would update that to “Bad news knocks on your front door with a warrant, while good news lied hidden in a backpack beneath a moldy sandwich and last year’s art project.”

Luckily for me (and thanks to TV) I spent my formative years training with the world’s best detectives before I ever took this job. Thanks for everything, Scooby-Doo.

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Single Serve

I remember when my kids were smaller they always wanted me to buy single-serving sizes of everything. Single serve peanut butter. Single serve ranch dressing. Single serve cheese and cracker boxes. Their argument was that it would make things easier for me when it came time to pack their lunches in the morning—instead of me rushing around trying to make sandwiches and whatnot, they could just pack their lunches themselves! My counter argument was that if they were that interested in making things easier for me, then they could pack their own lunches—with sandwiches and whatnot—the night before. I would even show them where the box of whatnots were kept.

I think I also tossed in some Mom Guilt arguments about how single serve containers are bad for the environment, and maybe even made a few cracks about how three baby polar bears slip under the ice and drown every time a Lunchable is opened, but that was more for the fun of making them feel miserable than an actual argument. No, the real reason I was against the pre-packaged, single-serving sized lunches was simply that I was just way too cheap to ever spend four dollars on six little tubs of ranch dressing. Of course, that argument was never going to be as compelling as the baby polar bear argument; especially around Christmas time when Coke would start showing all of those cutesy polar bear commercials, and stuffed baby polar bears (the plush kind—not the real ones) became all the rage.

In the end, it didn’t really matter which argument I choose—as things usually went when they were that young, I won that argument simply because I was the one who did the shopping. Of course, I’m sure that it also didn’t hurt when I pointed out that I didn’t know what kind of Brady Bunch delusion they were living under, but the only time I ever packed them a lunch for school was when we had leftover pizza from the night before. All other times I just signed them up for a school lunch, under the theory that if they were going to complain about/waste/ignore their lunch, than I would rather someone other than me me put the effort into preparing it.

And so that was the end of that. Or, at least, that’s what I thought. What I didn’t realize when I won the single serve argument nearly a decade ago was that asking me to buy them Lunchables was only the opening salvo in that particular war; if anything, the Lunchables argument was a targeting round, designed to get me to show my position so that they could regroup and come up with a better strategy. Which now, nearly ten years later, they have.

Here’s the thing about single serve: just like anything can be disposable, anything can be made into a single serving. That five pound tube of ground beef you bought for this weekend’s barbeque? Take enough hamburger out of it for one patty, fry it up on the stove, and leave the rest of the meat sitting on the counter overnight and voila! Single serve ground beef.

The same goes for the bag of buns: take one out, leave the bag open, and, like magic, the next morning you have a bag of single serve hamburger buns. (Or rather had.)

These days, instead of making the argument that their “single-serve” lifestyle causes baby polar bears to slip under the ice, I instead make the argument that it causes my bank account to slip under. Unfortunately, however, since baby polar bears are still much cuter than my wallet, that argument is as unsuccessful now as it was when they were little.

And just like that, suddenly Lunchables are starting to look like a pretty good option.

Well played, children. Well played.

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For most of my children’s lives, they were early risers. Weekends meant nothing to them—when six o’clock would roll around (or even earlier on holidays) they would be up and walking around, if not exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, then most definitely empty-stomached and chattering. What’s more, no sooner would they be up then they would be asking me questions, telling me about what they were going to do that day, and asking for—and eating—enormous breakfasts.

And then, one by one, they hit middle school. And it all stopped. Which is, if you ask me, a total gyp.

The whole time they were dragging me out of bed when they were in grade school I used to comfort myself with the knowledge that, while it might be a pain now, at least I didn’t have the type of kids you had to attack with a bucket of cold water and and a cattle prod just to get out of bed and on their feet in the mornings. At least I didn’t have the type of kids that you had to stick a funnel in their mouths and pour in a protein shake just to get them to eat before noon. At least I didn’t have the type of kids that are such a staple in the comics world that the “sleeping teenager” theme sometimes runs simultaneously in four strips in one day. At least, I thought, I didn’t have that.

Ha. That’s what I get for thinking.

The worst part of the whole thing, though, is that I thought it was going to be an either/or proposition. I though you EITHER had kids that woke you up at two AM on Christmas Day, OR you had kids that went into a coma every morning until ten: I didn’t know that it was possible to have both.

Some people say that it is the fault of the schools. That since the natural circadian rhythm of a teenager is to stay up until midnight and then sleep until ten in the morning we are just asking for trouble by making our schools start at seven thirty. That may be true, but, then again, I would also argue that it is in nobody’s “circadian rhythm” to perform quadratic equations at any time of the day or night, and yet we still ask our teenagers to do that. My point is that there are very few people, outside of kings and dictators, who get to choose their own sleep schedule—why should teenagers be allowed to join that select list? I mean, seriously, I don’t know how things are in your house, but in my house I could do with having a few less reasons to be reminded of Khaddafi when I’m dealing with my teens, not more.

And so, having firmly rejected the circadian rhythms argument, I, too, have joined the ranks of those who, every school day, must wake the (sleeping like the) dead. Which means that, I, too, must come up up with an elaborate plan to help those same walking dead get up and get functioning every morning. You know: one of those plans that look like they were co-designed by Wiley Coyote? In our house this means alarm clocks, wake-up calls, threats, and finally, bribes (“We have waaaa-ffles.”)

This, not too surprisingly, fills me with a certain amount of resentment. Where, I wonder, is my triple wake up call? Where is my congratulations when I manage to get myself up and out the door in time to meet my obligations? For that matter, where in the hell are my waffles?

I suppose, if I were being completely honest I would admit that my waffles are back in my own teenage years; unfortunately, however, I don’t recall eating a single one of them.

I guess I slept right through them.

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Have you ever heard of Word Cloud? Word Cloud is a site where you can upload your written documents and have them turned into a “cloud.” The Cloud shows you which words you use the most frequently by making them appear larger than the words you use sparingly. Hopefully, the only words that show up in jumbo font are words like “the” and “and;” if your word cloud is dominated by words like “exasperatedly,” “indubitably” and “sesquicentennial,” then your writing might be a little dense—not to mention that it might also have a pretty serious case of the “adverblies.”

Word Cloud is a very helpful device for writers; unfortunately, however, Word Cloud is only available for things that have been written down—it cannot be applied to the spoken word. This is too bad, because there have been lots of times in my dealings with my children when I would have liked to have been able to “word cloud” everything they said and then hand it back to them.

“Here,” I would have said when they were four. “Here’s today’s word cloud.” And then I would have handed them a gigantic “not,” an equally humungous “fair,” and finally, only slightly smaller, a “why.” “Thank” and “you” would have been small enough to fit in the front pocket of a pair of skinny jeans.

That was when they were four. These days, however, while “not” and “fair” are still pretty hefty, and even though “thank” and “you” have grown by leaps and bounds, there would be another pair of words that would dwarf them all. I am speaking, of course, of the number one favorite word in both a teenager and a preteen’s vocabulary. I am speaking, of course, of “forgot.” (Followed—or rather preceded—by it’s twin, “I.”)

Actually, the truth of the matter is that I think I would be a little bit afraid to do a word cloud on them these days, for no other reason than I think the “forgot” might be so huge it would blot out the sun and end all life on earth as we know it. (Or at least hurt a lot if I were to accidentally drop it on my foot.) What’s worse is that I don’t think the “forgot” has even gotten as big as it’s going to get; I think it is going to get bigger before it finally starts to go away—in fact, I think it has to.

Why? Because even now I can see that they have yet hit to hit rock bottom in the memory hole. Even now they are still able, albeit frantically, to pull themselves back from the edge of that hole. One day, though, the time will come when no amount of scrambling will fix things, and they will come to the same conclusion that so many of us were forced to come to ourselves. The conclusion that our lives have become unmanageable, and that the only way they can become manageable again if we give ourselves over to the power of The List.

Why do they resist the list so stridently? There have been so many times when I have begged them to write down the stuff they need to remember that I am sure that if I were to do a Word Cloud on myself, the word that would loom the largest would be “list.” (And, of course, “please” and “now.”) I don’t know. All I know is that I can’t wait for the day when their word cloud is made up of “you were” and “so very.” And who knows? Maybe those words will even be followed by a little bit of “right.”

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People who are proponents of the birth order theory (the theory that the order in which you were born into your family determines your personality traits) are always going on about how first born children tend to be stronger and more independent than later children. (This makes me think that most of the proponents of this theory are, in fact, first born children themselves). What they don’t talk about, however, and what I’ve observed in my own house, is that while first born children may very well be stronger and more independent, it is highly unlikely that those traits will contribute much to their future success, because another thing that is true about first born children is that they lack the ability to successfully get away with anything. If high school yearbooks had a “Most Likely To Get Caught” category (and I’m sure, these days, that some do), I’m positive that 99 times out of 100 the “award” would go to a first born child.

Of course, I could just be looking at things the wrong way—maybe firstborns are really no worse at getting away with stuff than other people are. Maybe it’s just that second born children (and beyond) are so much better at getting away with stuff that it makes the firstborns seem incompetent by comparison. But still: the bottom line is that later children are way better at hiding stuff than firstborns could ever hope to be. Who knows—maybe it is the firstborns themselves who bring this about. What I mean is, maybe younger children—because they grow up under the thumb of a larger, more irrational, sometimes malevolent but always irritable older sibling—quickly learn superior hiding and lying skills just to survive. Maybe they’re better at getting away with stuff because if they weren’t their older sibling would make their lives a living hell. Of course, I don’t know for sure if that’s the real reason: all I know is that if I walked into the house and smelled smoke, the oldest would still be standing there with a lit cigarette in her hand while the youngest would already be tucked away on the couch reading the Bible and swallowing the last of a breath mint.

Unfortunately for firstborns, this inability to get away with the things they have actually done also translates into the inability to get away with the things they didn’t do. Or at least things they probably didn’t do. I will admit that there are times when all it takes for me to start yelling at people is to walk in my front door. (The complete styishness of the place doesn’t help.) My youngest seems to be able to sense these moments right away, and can slip off of the couch and slide out the door so fast that it is hard not to believe he hasn’t had some sort of special forces training. My oldest, however, not only doesn’t try to escape, but will actually pick those moments to antagonize me. It’s like she is completely oblivious to the fact that the bear she is currently poking with that large stick is, in fact, outside of its cage. Outside, and ravenously hungry.

Of course, it is probably those same “bear-baiting” skills that will later on translate into the sort of strong, independent behavior that firstborns are so celebrated for, but for now I can’t help but wonder if there is a better (and certainly less irritating) way for her to learn these skills. Why can’t she strongly—and independently—clean the house before I get home from work? Or at least—strongly and independently—not actively contribute to its filthification? The whole thing makes me angry enough to growl just thinking about it. Maybe not growl—maybe just yell a little bit. At somebody.

Now where did that youngest child of mine get off to?

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