Monthly Archives: July 2014


The other day my husband sent me a disturbing text while I was still at work. I just got home it read, and I found Clementine…cleaning the bathroom.

My reply was instantaneous. Keep an eye on her. I’ll pick up some holy water on the way home. Sounds to me like a classic case of demonic possession.

Yeah, he replied. You’re probably right. But maybe, just in case, we should wait until she’s through with the bathroom.

Good call I shot back.

When I got home it turned out that the holy water wasn’t really necessary. For one thing, the bathroom wasn’t all that clean—it was barely “human teenage girl” clean, let alone “possessed by a vengefully clean spirit” clean. And for another, Clementine was already out doing something else by then, something that was more in keeping with her general nature. Or at least what I considered to be her general nature, because after the bathroom incident I really wasn’t sure I knew what that was anymore.

Here’s the thing: when Clementine was about one year old she and I met my friend Nancy for breakfast at Martanne’s. There I was, trying to balance a squirming baby on my lap and eat a plateful of chilaquiles when Nancy came to my rescue and scooped Clementine out of my arms and deposited her in a high chair. Clementine happily sat in her high chair and gummed a tortilla while I got to eat my breakfast with both hands, a luxury I had nearly forgotten about. When we got home I pulled out the high chair we had never used, and that’s where Clementine ate her meals from then on. (Well, up until a year or so ago. High school really put a cramp in her style.)

The point is that I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to notice that Clementine was ready for the high chair without Nancy’s intervention. It’s strange: even though we have the photographic proof (in the form of school and Christmas photos) that our kids are constantly changing, sometimes it takes someone—or something—else to really make it obvious to us.

The funny thing about this is that we can so easily see these changes in other peoples’ kids—how often have you found yourself muttering to yourself about the sixteen year old who was still required to drink out of a sippy cup? (To be fair, the family that instituted that rule did so after the third time a drink was spilled on a computer, making me think that that was actually a pretty sound rule for people of all ages. Unfortunately, my scotch just doesn’t taste the same out of a sippy cup.)

You’d think that as often as I complain about constantly having to buy ever larger shoes for my children I would be intimately familiar with the concept of people—and children in particular—always being in a state of flux. But it’s just like George Bernard Shaw said: “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

The (attempted) bathroom cleaning incident was followed a few days later by an attempt at doing the dishes, an attempt at sweeping the kitchen floor, and even an attempt at putting the trash out. (Sorry to all of you people who tried to drive down my street that day). Fortunately, by that time I had grown accustomed to the idea of the new and improved “helpful” Clementine, and was able to cancel the scheduled exorcism.

Unfortunately, It wasn’t soon enough enough to get a full refund—that’s okay, though: it’s always good to have one or two of those in the bank.

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Voicemail Me Not

I have a confession to make: I don’t have voicemail.

I say “confession” like it’s something I should be ashamed of, but the truth of the matter—and, I suppose, the real confession—is that I don’t feel bad at all about not having voicemail. Yeah, so: sorry, not sorry.

I know for a fact that this is annoying to many people. The reason I know this is because they keep telling me how annoying it is—usually to my face, because, you know, no voicemail.

“I tried to leave you a message, but you don’t have voicemail,” they’ll say, usually in the same tone of voice they use when they discover that I don’t have tissues and expect them to blow their nose on toilet paper.

Or sometimes they’ll just be concerned. “Do you know your voicemail isn’t set up yet? Do you not know how? Would you like me to do it for you?” (Conversations like that make me glad I have a screen lock on my phone—I would rather someone publicized my search history than enabled my voicemail function.)

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but in all likelihood I have my kids to thank for the fact that I have no voicemail, because it was only after realizing that they never, ever listened to a single voicemail I sent them that I was able to accept that living a voicemail-free lifestyle was even an option. I figured that if they were able to avoid all of my long-winded instructions, rants and exhortations and still somehow manage to function, than I should be able to live without the political campaigns, appeals for money and rambling stories that I used to get in return. (And those were the calls from my children).

So far it’s worked out great: not only do I never have to scramble to look for a pen so that I can write down a phone number that’s absolutely buried in the middle of a long and tedious voicemail (people, it’s not a mystery novel: your phone number should not be so cleverly concealed in the message that it catches your audience off guard every single time), but it also helps me catch out the people who are trying to convince me I’m either going crazy or senile. (“But I left you a voicemail about it,” they’ll say. “Hmm, that’s funny,” I’ll reply. “I don’t have voicemail.”)

No voicemail also means I don’t have to agonize over my outgoing message. Who would agonize over their outgoing message, you ask? Well, going by some of the really teeth-grindingly awful outgoing messages some of you out there have, I’d say that apparently the answer is: absolutely no one. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be agonizing over it. They most definitely should. (My friend Jack used a recording of his daughters singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in its entirety as his outgoing message for years. When I called him on the awfulness of it he admitted that he was fully aware of the fact that it was so long and tedious that many people just gave up and left no message at all. Which, I think, was his point. His was the passive aggressive version of no voicemail.)

I’d try the same thing, but the truth is the people I most want to avoid voicemail from are my kids, and somehow I think they’d be immune to recordings of themselves. Or at least if not immune, then so determined to leave some bit of bad news that they were willing to suffer it.

Because that’s the real real reason I don’t have voicemail: it made it too easy for my kids to tell me the things they knew I wouldn’t be happy to hear. Like their long-winded explanations as to why we’re out of toilet paper/tissue yet again.

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The other day my husband got a phone call from our daughter, Clementine. “Where am I?” she asked him tersely as soon as he answered the phone. Had it been me who answered the phone I would have been stumped. Was this the lead in to a joke? An existential crisis? A demand to be recognized as a unique individual in a unique time and place in history? My husband, however, chose to take the literal route and asked her to describe where she was. Which turned out to be the right answer, because Clementine was, in fact, lost.


Not spiritually lost, not emotionally lost, but just the usual, good old boring version of lost. The kind of lost, apparently, that thinks it’s okay to call someone up who is nowhere near you and ask them to tell you where they are. I should have gotten this, because it is the exactly the same thing Clementine did to me last Christmas.

When she was in London.

Yes, that’s right, my daughter called me from London to ask me for directions. At first I was flattered that, even though I’ve only been to London a few times in my life she thought I was enough of a Londoner to find the quickest route across Hyde Park. Or maybe that I was enough of a hacker that I could break into London’s massive CCTV network and tell her to “turn down that alley the man and his poodle just came out of.” Alas, I knew her well enough to know that it was neither: it wasn’t that she thought I was special—she just knew that I would answer my phone.

At one AM. Because that’s what time people who are lost in London call you. (To be fair, it was nine AM somewhere—like London.) Regardless, I pulled out my laptop, loaded up Google maps and talked her through finding the nearest Tube station. And I wasn’t even too terribly snarky about the whole thing. After all, I know how frustrating it can be to try and navigate your way around big cities—especially big cities whose streets were laid out before the invention of pants.

Of course then she turned around and did the exact same thing to me when she got back home to Flagstaff. The city she was born in. In fact, she did it to me from downtown Flagstaff, the same ten block area she has lived in her whole life. And a part of the city that was laid out well after the invention of pants, which means that not only are the streets laid out in a handy grid pattern, they are even partially alphabetical.

Not that I needed to know the alphabet to direct her: apparently, what I needed instead was my own satellite, because when Clementine called to ask me, again, where she was, she prefaced the question with the words, “I’m in front of a white building with blue shutters: where am I?”

I know downtown Flagstaff pretty well, but not that well.

I tried asking her the name of the street she was on: no dice. Asking her which side of the railroad tracks only got me the answer “this side.” Finally I got down to basics: can you see a great big mountain anywhere? Is it in front of you or behind you?

I finally managed to direct her to where she was going after breaking the instructions down into “Dora the Explorer” sized chunks. “Go towards the big mountain, over the train tracks, and turn right at the talentless dread-locked busker.” (I don’t need a satellite to know who’s likely to be in front of the Pita Pit—and I’m pretty sure that if anyone should be having an existential crisis, it’s that guy.)

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Truthy Truth

When my son, Clyde, was five years old I picked him up early from school one day to take him to a doctor’s appointment, where, among other things, he was scheduled to receive a vaccination. When I got to his classroom it was obvious that he had been discussing his upcoming ordeal with his fellow students, and also that they had done their best to work him up into a state of dread. I knew this must have been the case because when I walked over to fetch him the first thing he said wasn’t “Can I have a soda?”

To understand the magnitude of this you must first understand that “Can I have a soda?” had been—and still is—his stock response whenever anyone announces they are going anywhere at all. Anywhere. You could say, “Well, I’m off to plan my own funeral!” and Clyde would glance up from his computer game just long enough to say, “Can you get me a soda while you’re there?” (And don’t think a grumpy reply discourages him any, either: your response to the above scenario could be, “The only flavors they have at the funeral home are despair, regret, denial and Diet Denial,” and Clyde’s reply would still be, “Uh huh: can you get me one of each?”

But yeah, this time when I walked into the room the first thing he said to me was “Is this shot going to hurt?”

I responded with a laugh. “Hurt? Of course it’s going to hurt: they’re poking a sharp piece of metal inside your arm. Why wouldn’t it hurt?”

“Do I have to get it?” he then asked, his voice small and a little bit scared.

“Yep,” I said. “’Fraid so.”

We looked at each other for a moment and then he said, “Okay,” and that was that. He got the shot. The shot hurt. And then, when we were leaving the doctor’s office, he turned to me and said, “Can we stop and get a soda?” And that was it. Or at least I thought it was. Then a couple of weeks ago I ran into an adult who had been in the classroom during the exchange, and she remarked that she had never forgotten the honesty of the exchange between Clyde and I all those years ago, which made me think about my whole philosophy about lying.

Personally, I’m all for lying. Lying’s great: getting what you want when you haven’t really earned the right to have it—what could be better than that? What I’m not so big a fan of, however, is getting caught. Getting caught sucks. Which is why I try to never lie in situations where I’m likely to be found out.

There was no way I could have told Clyde that getting a shot wouldn’t hurt and gotten away with it—especially not when there was only going to be about fifteen minutes between the lie and the pain. True, the shot wasn’t going to hurt very badly, but since pain is subjective I didn’t think it would have been right to hold Clyde to my perceptions of pain. After all: I’ve been through childbirth; of course a shot would seem trivial to me. And besides, the question wasn’t “how much is it going to hurt?’ but rather if it was going to hurt at all.

Like I said, this was a situation that would have been almost impossible to lie my way out of—so I didn’t. Unlike the situation that immediately followed, where I told a whopping big lie and got away with it, because, still and all, five-year-olds are notoriously gullible.

I still can’t believe he bought it when I told him the stores were all out of soda.

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Brave New World

One day I hope to own a new car.

Well not a new car, of course—that would be crazy, do you know how expensive those things are?—but one that is new to me. And, I must confess, one that is a little bit on the newer side of new as well. Not too new, mind you, just newer than any car I’ve ever owned before. Like maybe one that was made in the decade previous to the one I am currently living in. Not one that was made in the decade I am living in—no need to aim for the stars, after all—but the decade previous. That’s all I ask. But until that day comes to pass I will have to be content with having a car from the decade before the decade before. Which means that my stereo system will continue to be practically prehistoric. If stereos wore clothes, mine would be sporting a handlebar mustache, a hoop skirt and a bustle. (Yes, all at the same time. And no, not in a hipster-y way.) I’m serious: my stereo has no ipod jack, no CD player—even my tape deck gave up the ghost a while ago (which is probably for the best: there’s only so may times you can show up somewhere humming 80s songs—which are the only music anyone owns on cassette tapes—before people start to wonder about you).

In fact, the only part of my stereo that still works is the radio, which explains why it was that I was hurtling down the interstate last weekend hitting the scan button every few seconds in an effort to find something that was not either Top 40 or Norteno music. And also explains how I happened to land on a station that was not at all what it seemed.

In my defense, I thought it was NPR. At first it really could have been NPR: a reasonable sounding man, with a reasonable sounding voice was explaining how it was possible for gays to become accepted in mainstream society. “First,” he said, they need to be recognized as average members of society—your neighbors, and teachers, and friends.” Yeah, I thought to myself, that sounds right. “Then,” he continued, “the people who are prejudiced towards gays need to be shunned as bigots and intolerant jerks.” Yep. “And finally, gays need to accepted into every facet of modern life.” Okay. Yeah. That sounds reasonable.

Then he came to the next part. “And that, my friends, is exactly how the Chinese brainwash you. And how the devil gets you.”

Wait, what?

At that point I couldn’t turn the dial fast enough, and I didn’t even care that the next thing I heard was the thrilling sounds of accordion, bass, and Spanish lyrics.

What the hell is wrong with people? I thought morosely. And my morose thoughts continued all the way until I got to my destination, which was a cabin on the banks of Oak Creek. But then when I got there those thoughts evaporated, because waiting for me were my children and some of their friends. And when I told them the story of the evil Chinese/Satanic plot to to sneakily assimilate gays into our culture they weren’t upset, they were just confused—confused that there was anyone left who still made a big deal about other peoples’ sexuality.

And that’s when I realized that my stereo wasn’t the only thing that was was out-dated. And that not only will it soon become nearly impossible to find a car that doesn’t have at the very least a CD player, it will also be nearly impossible to find someone who is isn’t at the very least minimally tolerant.

And, hopefully, someone who can explain to me why anyone would ever need four different Norteno stations on the same radio dial.

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