Monthly Archives: June 2014

Day Care

This summer marks a changing point in my household: this will be the first summer of not one, but two teenagers in the house. Which means several things. It means my chances of getting to take a shower at a reasonable hour have plummeted to nearly nil. (We only have one shower in our house, so I’d just like to apologize in advance to all the people who might be standing downwind of me this summer—especially if I happen to raise my arm to wave at you.) It also means my chances of getting a cup of coffee are pretty much nil, too, since it seems that in my house the birds and the bees talk should rather be called the birds and the bees and the beans talk: apparently the urge to consume mass quantities of caffeine appears at about the same time as all other biological urges.

But the thing that makes the biggest difference, at least as far as I am concerned, is the complete lack of a need for any kind of day camp. Well, at least on their part. I confess that I still need the daily respite that day camp provides quite a bit. In fact, if it were possible to enroll myself in a day camp, I would. (At one point in my life I thought that I had discovered the adult version of day camp, but then the bartender pointed out to me that day drinking was not the same thing as day camp at all. They also added in something about not having to go home but no longer being welcome to stay there.) And so it is that since The Man (and, depending on the bar, The Woman) says that I, myself, am no longer eligible for “day camp”, it looks like the only option available to me is still going to be sending my kids someplace instead. Even if technically they are too old for it.

In my defense there are a lot of great skills to be learned at a day camp. And I’m not just talking about how to make a lanyard key chain. (Although there is something undeniably badass about a well-made lanyard keychain.) No, I’m talking about the social skills that they only ever seem to learn when they get away from my house. Things like how to stand in line without punching the person in front of them repeatedly in the kidneys. Or how to wait their turn at the lunch (or lanyard) table. Or even (gasp!) how to say please and thank you.

But even without the added benefit of teaching my kids the social skills they failed to acquire at home, I think day camp serves a greater purpose for us all by encouraging families not to kill each over the summer. And I mean, less murder is generally considered a good thing, right?

I don’t know, maybe the murder thing is just a problem in my house. Maybe other families sail through the summer break like the Von Trapps, laughing and singing and hiking the whole time. Maybe. But I doubt it.

All I know is that the same house that is somehow spacious enough for four people during the school year becomes more claustrophobic than steerage class on the Titanic during summer break. And that the same people I can (generally) tolerate all year long somehow start moving their way up the “most endangered” list the further we get from the last day of school.

Maybe it’s not so much that the nature of their annoying habits change, but rather that their frequency does. After all, one crusty mac and cheese bowl in the couch cushions is annoying: six is practically an open and shut case for justifiable homicide.

Even the bartender agreed with me about that.

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The other night I ran into an old friend at the bar, and as we got to talking I realized how odd it was that our children, who are practically the same age, have never really hung out.

“We should totally get them together!” I enthused. “It would be great!”

And just like that I was planning outings in my head—maybe the movies, maybe a hike, maybe a backyard BBQ. And then I remembered that the children in question were actually both seventeen years old, and that you can’t plan play dates for seventeen year olds. Well, you can, but I think you have to call it a blind date.

It was enough to make me almost miss the days when I could simply plan a play date, the days when I wasn’t just their social secretary, I was their social director. The days when I got to be the one who decided when the party started, when it ended, and who was invited, and there was no discussion about it because I could win any argument simply by picking up the disagreeing party and walking out of the room.

Of course those days also meant that they could win any argument (or at least prolong it) by throwing themselves on the ground and refusing to move.

I suppose we could both still behave that way (although my back cringes at the thought of picking my son up in anything but a fireman’s carry, and cooperation is always best for that particular lift), but I think that it’s better that we have moved our disagreements from the physical to the verbal plane. Or at least that’s how I feel until the moment comes when I’m actually involved in the argument. Then the fireman’s carry starts to look pretty good.

Part of the problem is that my kids—and my daughter, especially—can turn any argument into a debate. What’s the difference, you ask? An argument is when I say it’s time to clean your room and you say, “I’ll do it later.” A debate is when I say it’s time to clean your room and you say, “How long have you been participating in Western bourgeois notions of cleanliness? Does it satisfy your sense of place in a gender normative society?” Yeah, it’s pretty hard to fireman’s carry your way out of that one.

The truth is, however, I only have myself to blame: I’ve always loved a good argument, and have always been willing to debate any topic with my children, certain in the knowledge that since I am right, I will win. “Why can’t I jump on the bed?” “Because the bed is old, the floor is old, and if you fall off and break your arm I refuse to pay the five-hundred dollar deductible in November, so by the time we get to the doctor’s in January they’ll probably have to amputate and there is no way I’m going to follow you around for the rest of your life making sure you are able to properly wipe your butt with only one arm.”

Used to be by the time I got to the end of an explanation like that they’d forgotten there ever was anything called a “bed” in the first place, let alone a desire to jump on it. But now they beat me at my own game.

“It always comes down to money with you, doesn’t it?” they say in their best fake sad voice.

“Says the person who has none,” I reply. But the damage has been done, and it’s obvious that they will soon be able to out-debate me. Next thing I know they’ll be able to pick me up and carry me out of any party.

Which, come to think about it, actually might not be a bad thing.

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Axe Murderers Welcome

I recently read a collection of “Two Sentence Horror Stories.” They were all along the lines of that 1970s movie, When a Stranger Calls, where the guy keeps crank calling the babysitter all night long until finally the police call and tell her, “We’ve traced the call… it’s coming from inside the house… get out!” (Even seeing that movie as a ten year old girl I remember thinking, Stellar police work there, boys.) Of course, these modern horror stories were a little more up to date: “There are pictures on your cell phone of you sleeping. You live alone.”

Despite the update, though, the theme remained the same: that terrible clutching fear you get when you realize that even though you thought you were safe within your own house, you weren’t, because unbeknownst to you, you are not alone.

I know that that is supposed to be a terrifying thought, and maybe at one point in my life it still was, but to be honest it is not even in my Top Ten list of things to fear anymore; in fact, I don’t that it’s even cracked my Top 100 lately. And that isn’t just because since having children I never, ever, seem to be alone in the house. (Although that is partially why: it does seem like they are always here. Weren’t they meant to have run away from home at least once by now?) No, it’s because I know that even if there was some sort of crazy axe murderer hiding in my closet he’d probably still make a better roommate than the children I live with now. For one thing, to even fit in the closet in the first place he’d have to clean it up quite a bit, and if you ask me having some guy swing an axe at your head is a small price to pay for a clean closet.

In fact, when I think about all the creepy ways some intruder might threaten and/or terrify me, I realize that they all probably involve cleaning of some sort, and suddenly I become okay with it. Take the shower scene in Psycho, for example: I know for a fact that there is no way anyone would be able to attack me in the shower without picking up at least some of the towels off the bathroom floor. If they didn’t then there would be a good chance that they get their feet all tangled up, and that, coupled with the constantly wet floor due to the fact that neither one of my children seem to understand that the shower curtain goes inside of the tub when they shower, would lead to them tripping, falling, and probably stabbing themselves with their own knife. And how embarrassing would that be? You’d be the laughingstock of the serial murders club.

Or what about that scene in Paranormal Activity (and a million other similar movies) where a malevolent poltergeist messes up a previously clean room in the blink of an eye? Yeah, for me to actually notice that happening I would first need a clean room. I can just picture myself walking into a room that has been paranormally “tossed” only to squeal not in horror, but delight upon finding the t-shirt I had been missing for weeks. I think that reactions like that would probably frustrate any poltergeist so much that eventually they would stop trying to get a reaction out of me by making a mess, and start cleaning up. (I wonder how many times I could scream and run out of a clean room before the poltergeist wised up to me?)

The fact is, it’s hard to terrify someone who has already lived through the ultimate horror movie. After all, what could ever top 12-Year-Old Boy Has Sleepover: The Morning After?

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First off, let me qualify this column by stating right away that my daughter, Clementine, is pretty damn clever—and not just in the “book larnin’” way, either. After all, she did manage to get through Europe mostly on her own last Winter Break, with all parts and luggage unscathed. And she’s smart in what some people call “emotional intelligence,” too: she has a small, close group of friends that she has managed to hang on to during the tumultuous ride of adolescence and high school. So trust me when I say that I don’t ever really worry about her future, or whether or not she’ll be able to handle “the real world,” (whatever that is). At least, I don’t usually worry about things like that. And then I walk in on her trying to cram something down the sink with both hands, and I kind of do.

In her defense she was trying to use the garbage disposal. I know this because 1) it was on (I could hear it), and 2) the water was running. Unfortunately for both her and for my plumbing the water was running down the opposite sink from the garbage disposal—which I guess kind of made sense, since that was actually the sink Clementine was trying to cram stuff down. (Actually, the word I’m looking for here might be fortunately, since did I mention that she was doing this cramming with both hands? I didn’t know whether to be annoyed that she was trying to clog the sink or relieved that she still had all of her fingers.)

It’s scenes like these that make me hyperventilate slightly when I think about how little time I actually have left to teach her absolutely everything before she is off on her own. Of course it doesn’t help that I thought we had already covered garbage disposals, use of quite a while ago. Not that I had given her a separate tutorial on them or anything: I just kind of assumed that along with learning how to read she had also learned that she should read—and that the easiest way to determine which side of the sink held the garbage disposal was to look and see which side had the words food waste disposal written on it. But apparently I was mistaken in this.

Or who knows? Maybe she did try and read but was just too overcome with the toxic fumes wafting off of the six week old bowl of Lucky Charms she was trying to cram down the sink to be able to make anything out.

I must confess that I also found the Lucky Charms to be quite distracting. So distracting, in fact, that my first question, when confronted with the vision of Clementine trying to clog the sink with them, was not to ask “What the hell are you doing?” but rather, “Why did you put yogurt on your Lucky Charms?” (Of course that was immediately followed with the horrific realization that that wasn’t yogurt. And also the realization that I probably wasn’t going to be eating yogurt—or Lucky Charms—any time soon.)

At this point I think I’m most concerned about how her first college roommate will react to things like the Lucky Charms Incident, and wondering if perhaps I should enroll Clementine in a self-defense class, since there is no way that someone who is not contactually obligated by blood to love her no matter what will be able to resist smacking her for doing things like that.

Or maybe I should save up my money and use it to deal with the next thing, since I’m sure that this probably won’t be the last wtf? moment Clementine experiences during this transition. And also maybe getting the name of a local plumber on speed dial might not be a bad idea.

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