Monthly Archives: January 2013

Bad Feeling

I’ve heard a lot of reasons from my children about why they should not go to school on a particular morning. First off, of course, is illness: it is remarkable how two otherwise healthy people, living in an otherwise healthy town, in a country that has eliminated many of the diseases that have ravaged the world for centuries, still manage to contract serious, debilitating illnesses on a regular basis. (And when I say “regular,” I mean like clockwork: almost every Monday morning, without fail.)

Fortunately—for me—that problem pretty much resolved itself once I got rid of our thermometer. One day it just occurred to me: every time I have been suckered into letting a “sick” child stay home it was because I had been encouraged to do so by that little skinny plastic instigator. “Look, look,” my kids would exclaim, waving their little friend in the air, “99.2! I have a fever! I’m sick! I have to stay home!” And they were right: I couldn’t in good conscience send them off to school when I knew for sure that they had a fever. Which meant, to me, that that little tattle tale had to go. Don’t get me wrong: they still get to stay home when they have a legitimate fever, but since this is now determined by the old “hand on the forehead method” (a method that is remarkably hard to fool with either a light bulb or being held under hot water), those occasions have become practically non-existent.

After the sick excuse was negated, the next one up to bat was the “waste of time” argument. As in, “We’re not doing anything today. All we’re going to do is work on x, and since I already finished x, I won’t have anything to do. I won’t learn anything. ” This argument might have been more successful if it wasn’t for the fact that I have made peace with knowing that when I send my children off to school every morning I consider any education they receive that day to be a bonus: the real reason I am sending them is to get them out of my sight for six hours. If they come home knowing the capitol of Libya, that is just the icing on the cake.

Besides, there’s plenty of important things to learn in school other than academic subjects. Things like “how to stop being so annoying.” True, this lesson can also be taught at home, by siblings, but only if there are a LOT of them—one or two siblings simply will not be enough to do the trick, and will actually tend to exacerbate any annoying tendencies which are already present. In the case of a family like mine, where there are only two children, I can’t think of any other way for my children to learn this particular lesson other than by spending time in the classroom and playground: sometimes, peer pressure can be a good thing, too.

In fact, this lesson is probably where the next argument for staying home comes from: the “I just don’t wanna go today, okay?” argument. (My son Clyde expresses this as “I’ve got a bad feeling about school today.” The Force is strong in this one.) This is actually the argument I am the most sympathetic to: I understand completely feeling like the last thing in the world you want to do that day is be surrounded by a bunch of obnoxious troublemakers; that’s why I send my obnoxious troublemakers off to school, so that the other children can convince them, by any means necessary, that antisocial behavior only brings antisocial behavior back in return.

That, and the fact that sometimes I just really, really need the house to myself. Hey, I never claimed that my excuses were any better than theirs.

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Buried Alive

It was during the early Victorian era that people first began to get really paranoid about being buried alive, which, considering all of the other ridiculous ways there were to die back then, was actually kind of silly (in the days before Neosporin, cutting yourself shaving could be a death sentence). Who knows why this was so: maybe Edgar Allen Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” was the “Snakes on a Plane” of its day, a bit of pop culture that crept into the public consciousness and created an irrational fear where none had existed before. Or maybe undertakers were just really lazy back then, and it wasn’t such an irrational fear after all. In any case, the Victorian version of Billy Mays did a brisk job selling things like coffin bells and underground speaking tubes, and writers like Poe turned a quick buck writing stories with names like, you guessed it, “The Premature Burial.”

Still, as time has passed, this fear had receded to the back of our consciousness—while we still might occasionally remark on it (“Man, that would suck”), we don’t obsess over it like we once did. Which is a good thing. Or, at least, that’s what I thought, until I had my son, Clyde. Because having Clyde around has got me started thinking that I should add a codicil to my will that calls for coffin bells, speaking tubes, and maybe even being buried with 3G. Because Clyde clearly has a problem differentiating between “dead” and “alive.”

I found this out the hard way (well, not the really hard way—that would be by being buried alive) when Clyde called me at work to tell me the sad, sad news that his new pet lizard had, unfortunately, expired. Passed on. Crossed over. Slipped the mortal coil. Or, as Clyde put it, was “not breathing. Not even a little.”

Due to the fact that thus far in his life Clyde has been spectacularly unlucky in pets (although, obviously, not quite as unlucky as the pets themselves), I already knew the routine: offer my sympathy, promise pizza for the evening, and go home and dispose of the evidence before Clyde returned from school. Which I did. And yet, when I got to the third part of the plan I met a minor snag: the lizard, in the words of Monty Python, was “not dead yet.” In fact, it was feeling rather spry, so spry that when I picked it up to send it to its final reward, it turned and looked at me.

Not in an aggressive way. Not in a threatening way. But still: how aggressive or threatening does a lizard have to be when it is in your hand, supposedly dead, and then it turns to look at you? If lizards could have heart attacks I’m sure this one would have died all over again from the shock of being screamed at and then flung back into its cage. As it was I’m sure that I took a few years off of its (probably already short) life. That’s only fair, though: it did the same to me.

Since I didn’t want Clyde to spend the rest of his day moping around about his supposedly “dead” lizard, after I had recovered somewhat from my shock I texted him to let him know the happy news. His reply? “Can we still get pizza?”

Forget the part about speaking tubes in my will: I’m putting something in there about how no one is getting any pizza at my wake until at least three doctors have confirmed that I am well and truly dead. Hopefully, that will do the trick, but, just to be on the safe side side, I think I’ll add an extra clause about how, under no circumstances, is anyone allowed to flush me.

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Sometimes I think that the greatest benefit of having children is having the opportunity to see the world through completely different eyes. Of course, sometimes this benefit is not so easy to recognize. For instance, it’s hard for me to see the advantage of seeing the world as one massive urinal, but, apparently, that is how it appears to some children—the male ones, especially. (“It was just quicker to go outside,” they always say, an argument I might actually be tempted to believe if it wasn’t for the fact that there have been times when they stood inside the house so that they could pee out the window. And don’t give me that, “Oh,you know you would do it, too, if you could,” because no, I wouldn’t.)

I also don’t understand the teenage appeal of seeing the world as one great big place to lose your car keys, homework, permission slips, cell phones, and shoes in over and over again. While I, too, tend to see the world as a delightfully chaotic place, I also enjoy having my own small corner of it somewhat tamed into order. But again, that’s just me.

But still, for all the times I am completely confounded by the way these people who live in my house see the world, there are times when their take on things is so refreshingly different that I realize that I am the one who has been deluded all along. Take, for example, my son Clyde’s reaction to hearing the old “Superman” radio show intro for the first time.

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”

The first time he heard that he cocked his head, thought about it for a minute, and then asked, “Why were they so excited when they thought it was a bird?”

That’s very good question, and one that I had simply never considered before. (For that matter, why were they so excited when they thought it was a plane?) And the thing is, it wasn’t just because Clyde still sees things through “young” eyes that he caught on to the incongruity: I must have listened to that intro a thousand times in my own youth, and never once did that thought occur to me.

Then there was “Les Miserables.” After watching it with us on Christmas Day, Clyde was thoughtful. “Did you like it?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “There’s just one thing I don’t understand. I thought that when they died at the end they were going to get to go to heaven.”

“They did,” I said, remembering what seemed like the entire cast climbing up the monumental barricade at the end. Clyde, however, was not convinced. “That wasn’t heaven,” he said with disbelief. “That was France.”

At this point I feel I must interject that Clyde was not disparaging France. He’s been to France. He likes France. But, apparently, when it comes to Eternal Paradise, he sets the bar a little bit higher. As well he should.

Maybe that’s the biggest advantage to living with people who see the world through fresh eyes: they tend to have much higher (albeit often much more unrealistic) expectations about everything. Which is a good thing: it’s nice sometimes to be forced to climb up out of our own morass of adult cynicism and low expectations and see the world that way, too. A world where things are fair (or at least try to be), a world where people save their excitement for things that are actually exciting, and a world where, when you die, your Eternal Reward is more than just more of the same.

And of course, let’s not forget a world where you can pee anywhere you like, anytime. Even out a window.

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I have always hated the idea of the “backseat driver,” and therefore have always done my best to avoid becoming one myself. In a way it’s been easy: since I didn’t get my own driver’s license until relatively late in life (I was nearly thirty) I have always had the sneaking suspicion that everybody drives better than me, and therefore it would be be ridiculous for me of all people to try and critique or improve someone else’s driving. That’s not to say I still don’t do my share of complaining, but instead of being a backseat driver, I am a backseat navigator. When I am a passenger the words most frequently out of my mouth are not “Slow down!” or even “Look out!” but rather, “Where in the hell are you going?” Which, I know, isn’t much better, but still: I believe that it is a difference nonetheless.

Or, at least, it was. Then my daughter turned sixteen and started driving, and those subtle distinctions suddenly went right out the window, along with all of beloved self-restraint and complacence. Because once I had a teenage driver of my own in the family I immediately turned into the world’s biggest cliché of a backseat driver, complete with screams, gasps, groans, and other unhelpful (and probably very annoying) noises of despair.

I can’t help it. Really. Even though every time I get in the car with her I tell myself that this time I am going to zip my lips, the next thing I know we are racing up to a stop sign, and she is looking to the left but there’s a car coming from the right, and it’s a two-way stop but maybe she thinks that it’s a four-way and she doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all, and oh my god, she’s going to drive right in front of them and the next thing I know “STOP! STOP! STOP!” is coming out of my mouth and I’m stomping on the my imaginary brake pedal. And she is looking over at me with complete disdain and saying “I really hate it when you do that.”

But at least she is saying it while we are stopped.

I am happy to say that I am still not this way with other people—like my husband, for example, who does most of the driving when we are in a car together. But then again, I didn’t watch him grow up. I didn’t watch him do things like get into a toy car at age three, immediately run into a tree and then attempt to solve the problem not by backing up and going around the tree, but rather by hitting the gas even harder. This car, by the way, was not a toy Hummer, and the tree in question was no sapling. The result was that the car attempted to climb the tree, at which point Clementine gave it even more gas until the whole thing flipped over. And then when everyone was pulled out, dusted off, and the car was righted, she got in and tried to do it again.

Her cousin, by the way, who was sitting in the passenger seat the whole time, and who voluntarily got back into that same passenger seat again after we had pulled him from the wreckage, was admirably mum during this whole affair. Not even a peep of backseat driving from him, even though the car they were driving was actually his. Perhaps I should learn to take a leaf from his book, and sit stoically through all of Clementine’s attempts to commit vehicular manslaughter on my person.

Of course, come to think of it, he could have just been quiet because he was terrified. Well, that method will work too, I guess.

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Milk II

It is eleven o’clock on a weeknight when my son, Clyde, bursts into my bedroom with distressing news.

“The milk has gone bad!” he shouts.

Although this really is distressing news (What? I just bought that milk), the way he tells it, with such obvious excitement and relish, is like an old-time newspaper boy announcing some juicy headline tragedy. I half expect him to follow up his statement with, “Read all about it!”

Or maybe that’s just because it’s eleven o’clock on a weeknight, and I am sound asleep when he decides to share this piece of breaking news.

“Okay,” I mumble. “I’ll get some more tomorrow.”

“But this milk is really bad,” he says. “Smell it.” And then he sticks the entire gallon under my nose.

A few years back one of the neighborhood skunks let go right outside my open bedroom window: the smell was so bad that to get back to sleep I had to shove two fingers full of Campho-Phenique up my nose. (This was a trick I remembered seeing in Silence of the Lambs, although in the movie I think they used Vick’s Vapor Rub, which I didn’t own. I wasn’t quite sure on the details, and, at three am, I wasn’t about to search IMDb.)

That was, by far, the worst thing I have ever smelled. So, yes, I realize that it could have been much worse—still: neither one is a very pleasant way to wake up. And, unlike the skunk, I could yell at Clyde.

“Get that AWAY from me and go to bed. Now!”

“Fine,” he said, obviously upset that his big news had not been met with a more receptive audience. “I just thought you’d want to know.” And then he turned away, the picture of rejection. He looked like the apostle who had just run through town on Easter morning calling, “Have you heard the Good News!” only to be told in no uncertain terms to “Shut it, you. We like to sleep in on Sundays.” And instead of running after him and comforting him, I muttered “good riddance” under my breath and went back to sleep.

But, wait, you’re probably saying. He was just trying to save you from pouring that nasty milk on your cereal in the morning. He was just thinking of you. And you turned him away.

Yeah, well, that’s a nice thought and all, but past experience doesn’t tend to support it. After all: was he trying to save me when he came into my room at midnight to announce he had just beaten Sonic 3? Was he trying to save me when he stood by my bedside like a spooky statue at two am, waiting for me to stir so he could ask, “Can we go to Martanne’s in the morning?” No, he was not. He was just operating under the usual assumption, that since I Am Mom, I am Always On Call.

Or maybe he thinks there are two Moms, the daytime one and the nighttime one, and that when he wakes me up in the middle of the night he is only accessing the night shift. But if that was the case then surely he would have noticed that the nighttime Mom is much, much grumpier than the daytime one. Of course, that might only serve to reinforce the delusion. After all, wouldn’t it make sense that the nighttime position required an employee of lesser qualities? And “lesser qualities” certainly describes me perfectly when I am unwillingly awoken from a sound sleep.

Especially when the reason for my awakening is a gallon of expired milk held directly under my nose.

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