Monthly Archives: August 2014

On Purpose

There is a scene in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover where, in order to hide from the bad guy (the Thief), the Cook hides the Wife and her Lover inside a meat truck that has been parked behind his restaurant for a week. A meat truck that has been parked behind his restaurant for a week with the engine turned off. A meat truck that has been parked behind his restaurant for a week with the engine turned off and no working refrigeration. It is, quite frankly, a horrifying scene, one of those scenes that make you glad that Smell-O-Vision never really caught on. It is also a scene that, unfortunately, I got to experience first hand just this last week.

Well, I didn’t get to experience the part with the Thief. Or his Wife and her Lover. But I am a Cook, and I did have a vehicle full of rotting meat parked in front of my house. Unlike the Cook in the movie, however, I was blissfully ignorant the whole time. Or, at least I was, until I opened my car door and got in.

Here’s what happened. I went to the store. I came home from the store. I asked my son, Clyde, to pause his game long enough to bring in the groceries and put them away. You can guess the rest, although it might help to know that in the summer I drive my car as little as possible, and so my car sat in front of my house, in the sun, for two whole days before I finally got in and noticed that something smelled very wrong not only in Denmark but in all other places as well.

When I (rightfully so, I felt) chastised Clyde about his lapse in, well, everything his reaction was much less apologetic than I had hoped for. In fact, it was decidedly none apologetic. His exact words were, “It’s not like I did it on purpose.”

After I had finished goggling at him for that statement I managed to sputter out that I knew he hadn’t done it on purpose, that if I had suspected for a moment that he had done it on purpose I would be on the phone right now, trying to to have him committed, and that the point wasn’t whether or not he had done it on purpose but whether or not he had tried not to do it. On purpose.

He just responded by looking at me blankly. And sulking when I told him that no, we would not be having tacos tonight after all. I responded by sighing, and by trying to explain again what I had meant.

If we were even a slightly spiritual family I would have talked to Clyde about the importance of mindfulness, the importance of being present in every moment, how vital it is to Be Here Now. I would have talked about how doing good is a conscious choice; how it is more than “not being bad,” but rather the act of consciously living a life of good. Instead, I repeated what I had said before, but added in that living your life is like driving a car—just because you take your hands off of the wheel doesn’t make you any less responsible for where the car goes.

He, of course, muttered something about why I have to make such a big deal about everything, but as he stormed away I think I caught a spark of recognition there, and left it at that. It hasn’t come easily to me, but finally, after nearly two decades of parenting, I can let go of the need to have them crouch at my feet and offer up, “You were right, I was wrong.”


But we still didn’t have tacos that night.

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When my daughter, Clementine, was a baby she went through a period where, instead of sleeping, she screamed her head off.

Every single night.

If we hadn’t all been so miserable it probably would have been funny: like clockwork she would wake up around midnight and then cry inconsolably until three. All of the baby books I read suggested that she was just getting her days and nights confused, and that we should simply “nudge” her back into a normal sleeping pattern. I don’t remember exactly how we were supposed to do the nudging, but I do remember that Baby NyQuil was frowned upon. Or, at least it was frowned upon as far as giving it to the baby went—adult consumption was probably expected. (Although the adult version of Baby NyQuil is usually called “Scotch.”)

Luckily for us, and despite the lack of any decent advice, whatever we did (or didn’t do) eventually worked, and by the time she was a year old her sleeping patterns became normal again, and have, with a few exceptions, stayed that way ever since.

My son Clyde, on the other hand, never had a problem with sleeping through the night. There were no late light scream sessions, no “confusion” between day and night; unlike Clementine (with whom I had the TV schedule memorized), with Clyde I nearly forgot what late night television looked like.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this summer, thirteen years after his birth, Clyde finally went through his “completely normal” baby phase of confusing his days and nights. And while he doesn’t cry inconsolably like his sister did seventeen years ago, that doesn’t mean there isn’t screaming involved. It’s just that, this time, the screaming isn’t being directed at me.

Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier to wake up to. Especially when the screaming is soon followed by shouts of “Kill the settlers! Kill the settlers!”

That’s right: Clyde is a gamer. Which means that, for him, days and nights are not just confused, they have ceased to exist, because in the dark, manky reaches of a teenage boy’s lair, lit only by the glow of a computer screen, what difference does it make if it’s day or night outside? Of course, it doesn’t help that some of the people he games with live halfway around the world, so that what is night time for Clyde is the middle of the day for them. (Although, on a scale of one to hobo, I’m not sure which is worse—gaming your nights or your days away.)

I realize that this habit of his—obsessively gaming into the wee hours of the night (or perhaps the wee wee hours, since it is usually when I get up to pee that I notice he’s still up)—is something I’m supposed to wring my hands and worry over, but I just can’t find it in me to be too bothered that he’s rather forego sleep for an adventure. Maybe it’s because I played Dungeons and Dragons all through high school (yeah, I was not only a nerd, I was that kind of a nerd), or maybe it’s because I enjoy eavesdropping on Clyde’s one-sided conversations (the headphones mean I can only hear his responses, and believe me, “Kill the settlers” is one of the tamer things I have heard), but as far as I’m concerned I have to agree with Clyde that between sleep and gaming, gaming seems to be a whole lot more fun.

And besides, aren’t you supposed to sleep when you’re dead? Or at school? Something like that. And anyway, it could be a whole lot worse: he could be a settler. Talk about having to sleep with one eye open.

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Bed Thief

My family has always been really big on co-sleeping. And when I say “my family” I mean my kids, and when I say “big” I also mean my kids. Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that my kids still get in bed with me, even though they are now both pretty big.

In Clyde’s case “pretty big” means “really, really big.” As in huge. As in it feels like a full grown man is crawling into bed with me every time he gets under the covers, probably because he is practically the size of a full grown man. Which would be fine except for the fact that there is already a full grown man in my bed—my husband—and two full grown men and one full grown woman are a bit much for a queen sized bed. It feels like I’m sailing steerage class on the Titanic. And by the Titanic I mean that this ship is doomed.

When my daughter was little we had a very simple and fail safe solution to the problem of involuntary co-sleeping: we had another child. (I call this the “gardener’s solution.” If you want to drive unwanted species out of a flower bed all you need to do is plant something that will outcompete them. And nothing can outcompete a baby when it comes to taking up space. They are like one of those magic sponges that start out as a little capsule and then become a full sized bath sponge. With the pills you just add water; with babies you just add sleep.)

When it came time to kick my son out of our bed, however, I realized that our previous method was not going to be a sustainable solution—I was not going to just be able to have more and more children indefinitely. (Yeah, I know that that should have been obvious the first time, but in my defense I was too sleep-deprived to think clearly.) And so, having already used my quota of parental brilliance on the first solution, this time around I took the lazy mom’s approach and did nothing, telling myself that the problem would eventually sort itself out. After all, how many teenagers still get in bed with their parents, right?

Turns out that the answer to that question is “one.” But when that one is your teenager, and when the bed in question is also yours, it turns out that “one” is more than enough.

I know that I should be flattered; after all, it’s not many teenagers that are even willing to sit next to you at the movies, let alone cuddle. And I also know that I shouldn’t be worried: it’s not like he’s coming in after bad dreams, or from some fear of being alone. There are still plenty of times during the day when his door is closed and the vibe is clearly one of Go Away Now. But I guess there’s just something about the night that causes all of his prickly teenage-ness to soften enough to want to cuddle. Which is great. Really. Really really great. No, seriously, it’s awesome. Or, at least, it would be if I had a standing appointment with a chiropractor.

When my kids were toddlers parents with older children would always tell me that one day I would look back and miss the days of temper tantrums and diapers. I’ve got to say that while that scenario hasn’t happened yet, I’m still open to the idea of it one day coming true. And, in the same way, I’m still open to the idea that one day I will miss waking up every morning crammed into bed like I’m in some kind of Hee Haw skit.

Or maybe that’s just the sleep deprivation talking again.

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Brown Up

When I was growing up dumb blonde jokes were all the rage. As in “How many dumb blondes does it take to screw in a light bulb.” Looking back, I can’t really remember what it was about them that made blonde people such a fun target, but I have a feeling that what for my grandparents was probably an “Old Farmer” joke, and for my parents was probably a “Polack” joke was, for my generation, a “dumb blonde” joke. In any event, all three of them had the same theme, which was basically “can you believe how dumb these people are?”

One joke I remember in particular was the “green up” one. As a man is showing off his new house to a friend he keeps interrupting his tour to yell “Green up! Green up!” out of every window. Finally, overcome with curiosity, his friend asks him what he is doing. “Ah,” the man replies, “I hired a bunch of (old farmers/Polacks/dumb blondes) to install my new lawn, and I’m just reminding them which side of the sod to plant facing up.”

I thought of this joke the other day as I watched my children try and make grilled cheese sandwiches, and had to keep repeating the words, “Brown up! Brown up!” the whole time.

I thought I had made my instructions fairly specific. Butter the bread. Place the bread butter side down in the pan. Top one piece of bread with cheese. After the bread has browned to your satisfaction, put one piece of bread on top of the other. Brown side up.

My original instructions hadn’t included that last part, but when I saw the monstrosities that they were creating I realized that I had vastly over-estimated their culinary skills. Or maybe just their skills in general. Suddenly all those ridiculous warning labels you see on appliances started to make sense. Oh, I thought. So this is why they added the “Do not use while showering” warning to the blow dryer. Although, at least with the blow dryer you can kind of understand the end result someone was going for—clean, dry hair in record time. With the grilled cheese sandwich debacle it was hard to imagine the thinking behind it, if, in fact, the end result they were looking for was a grilled cheese sandwich.

As I listened to their excuses about how it wasn’t really their fault—after all, they had never made grilled cheese sandwiches before—I started to feel like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. “But you do know that there is such a thing as a sandwich, right? And that in that sandwich the fillings go on the inside.”

There was a time when I would have been convinced that the whole debacle was just a ruse to get me off of the couch to make their grilled cheese sandwiches for them, but lately I’m not so sure. It’s possible that they just might be this incompetent.

It’s possible that they really don’t understand that the shower curtain only works as intended when closed. It’s possible that they really don’t understand that a you have to take the lid off of the tupperware before you put it in the dishwasher (at least if you want it to get clean on the inside). And it is possible that they think that grilled cheese sandwiches were meant to be eaten with fork.

Having talked to other parents about this situation (and others remarkably similar to this one), I kind of have to wonder why the original butt of all of those jokes wasn’t “children” in the first place.

Maybe because there’s nothing funny about being the person who constantly has to play the straight man. Or at least clean out the frying pan later.

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