Monthly Archives: June 2015

Toilet Paper Lite

The other day I asked my daughter, Clementine, if she would pick up some toilet paper while she was out. Happily she agreed, leaving me free to lazily spend the rest of my afternoon drinking wine and watching Netflix on the couch, all the while smugly congratulating myself on my foresight in having had a child eighteen years ago. At least, I was smug until Clementine came home with the toilet paper. After that, I was worried.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” I asked her.

“No,” she calmly replied. Perhaps too calmly.

“Are you sure,” I pressed. “Did, perhaps, my doctor call? Or your doctor?”

“No,” she said again, not so much calm now as puzzled. “Why?”

“Because,” I said, holding up the four-pack of single-ply toilet paper she had brought home, “I can’t imagine any reason other than my imminent death to explain why you would only buy a four pack of toilet paper. Unless it’s your imminent death, and you’re trying to dilute my future grief by adding in annoyance.”

“You know,” she said. “there are ways to communicate other than sarcasm.” And then she went into her room, where I assumed she mentally slammed the door. (It is impossible to literally slam the door anymore: she slammed it off of its hinges three years ago.) Slamming door or not, her disappearing act left me all alone to ponder the thought processes of someone who would buy a 4-pack of toilet paper for anything other than an overnight camping trip.

It would make sense if I had asked her to spend her own money—in that case I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had returned with a single roll of toilet paper, or even an armful of loose TP she had purloined from the nearest gas station. But I had given her my bankcard, which, in theory, meant that she was free to buy all the toilet paper in the store.

It would also make sense if she had gone to some tiny little convenience store where four-packs were all they offered in the way of toilet paper—and you were glad they did. But I saw the receipt—she had gone to one of those big box stores where they sell soda in 55-gallon drums and toilet paper by the pallet. How she even managed to find a four-pack in a place like that is beyond me.

I suppose I could chalk it up to youthful optimism: the sincere belief that whatever is coming just around the corner is going to be so awesome that it would be foolish to tie yourself down with meaningless material goods. In other words, why buy a giant pack of toilet paper when this time tomorrow you’ll be waking up in Paris? Or better yet, waking up in Paris to the news that scientists have found a way get around the need for anyone to ever need toilet paper ever again. (Perhaps there will be an App for that.)

Or maybe it’s youthful pessimism: the sincere belief that even if we do get to wake up in Paris, it will most likely be a post-apocalyptic Paris where toilet paper will be the least of our concerns. (Although I would argue that after the apocalypse—when all the toilet paper factories are defunct—is especially when we need to be worried about toilet paper.)

Regardless of whether it was a case of youthful “TP roll half full” or “TP roll half empty,” I’m pretty sure that youthful something or other was at the root of such short-sighted thinking. Maybe even something as simple as youthful stupidity.

But then again, that’s probably just the sarcasm talking.

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Recently, in the dark and scary confines of my refrigerator, two very good ideas came together in a very bad way. The first good idea was putting your name on your food. Yes, I know that this is an idea that seems more suited to living in a college flop with seven under-employed dirtbag roommates than a single family living in a single family home, but trust me: if you had had to break up all the fights over who drank the last of “the Sunny D that I bought with my own money!” that I did, then you, too, would encourage people to write their names on the foods they hold dear. Of course, somehow this rule has morphed into “write your name on anything you want/think you deserve more than anyone else in the family.” In fact, I’m surprised that summertime doesn’t find names being written on the sides of ice cubes as soon as they come out of the trays. So, yeah, in the interest of minimizing conflict between people (well, sort of people: children), I decided that it would be a good idea for people to start writing their names on food.

The other good idea I had was that we should all try to reduce the amount of waste we generate in the kitchen, either the kind that gets recycled or the kind that gets thrown away. Which meant, in this case, making a brief foray into the world of reusable bottles. Specifically, reusable milk bottles. Even more specifically still, reusable mocha milk bottles.

And now we arrive at the conflict.

Milk is usually one of those foods that can belong to everyone. We either have plenty of it, or we have none. (Occasionally we have both at the same time. This happens when I have neglected to buy enough “good” cereal and the milk has gone bad from disuse, in which case while there is still plenty of “milk” in the fridge, there is no milk there that anyone wants to use. Of course, no one tells me that the milk has gone bad. They just leave it in there, letting me assume we still have plenty of milk, when actually we have none. Heaven forbid the person who discovers the bad milk should actually pour it out. Heck, even taking the time to write “BAD” on it would be enough for me. But, as usual, I digress.)

Anyway, here’s what happened: the other day I brought home a bottle of mocha milk, delicious chocolate coffee flavored milk that just so happens to also come in a reusable glass bottle. The idea is simple: you pay a deposit for the bottle, and when the bottle is empty you return it, get your deposit back, and buy a new bottle of milk. With luck the same bottle can be used hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Unless, of course, it is unlucky enough to come into my house, whereupon it will be immediately seized and claimed by a Sharpie wielding mocha milk fiend.

And not just claimed with a name, but also with dire threats of painful death to future milk thieves, including a specific request for a particular thief in question to perform an anatomical impossibility upon themselves.

Did I mention this was in Sharpie?

And that was how this poor bottle—a bottle that had probably been filled at least five hundred times—suddenly reached the end of its useful career. The permanent graffiti on its side meant that the chances of it ever being filled again and sold to a different family—a nice family—were now nil.

Right along with the chances of me ever being to shop in that store again—at least after I returned that particular bottle.

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Finally, after nearly eighteen years of anticipation, my daughter Clementine is getting a job. This is incredibly exciting for me, and not just because she will finally learn the meaning of hard work. I have never doubted that she knew the meaning of hard work, and I’m sure all of the groups and organizations she has volunteered with over the years would agree with me on that score. No, the reason I am so happy about her finally achieving gainful employment is because I absolutely can’t wait until she brings home her first paycheck. I can’t wait to snatch it out her hands, rip it up into tiny little shreds, throw it on the ground and then jump up and down on it for good measure, all the while gleefully chanting, “Welcome to MY world!” That will be one of the happiest days of my life.

Okay, so I might have a slightly unhealthy fixation with revenge. But in this case I think it’s justified: Clementine and I have always fought about the best way to spend my money. As in, she just can’t understand why I am so reluctant to spend it. Or rather, why I am so reluctant to waste it. Why I get so mad over little things (in her view) like leaving a brand new box of Cheez-Its out in the rain. Granted, I may have gone a little overboard in my response to that one. Taping up a picture of the ruined box inside the cabinet with “This is the only way you’ll ever see crackers in this house again,” written across the bottom in red ink might have been just a little too Mommy Dearest. But still. A brand new box of Cheez-Its. In the rain. Of course I needed to get revenge for that. And with the introduction of a paycheck into her life, hopefully she will begin to understand that feeling.

Hopefully she will understand exactly why I kept muttering, “Cheez-Its. Real Cheez-Its. Not even the store brand.” Now maybe she’ll understand her father’s oft repeated lament of “Do you know how many holes I had to dig to buy that (fill in the blank)?” (Although in her case she’ll have to translate it to “burgers I flipped, macchiatos I made, or pizzas I tossed.”)

After all, it wasn’t until she got a car of her own and started giving her friends rides that she understood why I didn’t want to drop her off in Baderville “on my way” to picking up her brother from a sleepover in Kachina. Or why I was so irritable when I had to make five trips in one day between our downtown home and her school in Cheshire after she forgot both her lunch and her homework, but didn’t realize she had forgotten the one until forty-five minutes after I had dropped off the other.

Hopefully the same sort of epiphany will occur to her after she realizes, viscerally, that Cheez-Its (and other luxuries) cost more than just money—they cost time. More than that, though, they represent choices about how to spend your time: the choice about how much of your time you are willing to spend doing something you don’t really love in order to get the things the things you want. I know, I know: it’s just a box of Cheez-Its. (Trust me, I heard that plenty after making that box the star of my kitchen’s “Most Wanted” poster.) And yet, it’s really never just a box of Cheez-Its. Because it is what we choose to spend our money on (as opposed to our parents’ money) that defines who we are. And Clementine will finally have the chance to start filling in that definition.

I’m guessing already that her part of that definition won’t include too may boxes of rain-soaked Cheez-Its.

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For the most part, I loved growing up as a second child. Sure, I din’t get to play sports or join the band (because, “we tried that with your sister, and it didn’t work out,”), but, in general, the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages. For instance, I didn’t have a curfew (because, “we tried that with your sister, and it didn’t work out,”). With my kids, however, I think things might be turning out differently.

Half of the fun of being the second (or third, fourth or even fifth) child is the anonymity—you get away with so much more because your parents tend to forget you’re there. Not literally, of course—the dirty towels and ever decreasing supply of frozen pizzas make sure of that—but quite often figuratively. While the first child is busy getting chewed out for not calling when they stayed after school late to work on their science project, the second child is sneaking in the back door after spending a week on the road touring with Rancid.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the point is the second child tends to get away with a lot more than the first child. A lot more. And not just because dealing with a strong-willed first born tends to wear parents out (although there is that, too). No, the reason seconds get away with so much more is that they have learned the subtle art of lying by omission. And how did they learn this? By watching their older siblings try it the other way—and fail.

A first born child will argue about their curfew. Bitterly. Passionately. Endlessly. They will produce graphs, and statistics, and testimonials, all designed to get you to change your mind and allow for just one more measly hour. A second child won’t ever need to do this, because a second child will avoid the problem entirely by simply neglecting to tell you they were going out in the first place.

It is amazing to me that so many firstborn children end up going into politics, because they tend to be the worst at lying and sneaking around. I’m not saying they don’t try their best—they do—it’s just that they’re not very good at it. Or at least not as good as their younger siblings.

I think it probably has something to do with the way different children tend to regard conflict—or, more importantly, the way the oldest child tends to relish it. I know that when it comes to my own children, there are times that I am convinced my oldest, Clementine, has changed her beliefs just to have something we can disagree about.

Clyde, on the other hand, is not a fan of disagreement. In typical second child fashion, he tends to avoid conflict by simply avoiding the person he has a conflict with—usually me. Which, as a second child, should work out for him. Unfortunately, however, Clyde failed to get the memo about second children being somewhat invisible—if Clyde is in the house, you know it. And yet, he still gets away with more than his sister ever did, because he overcompensates for his lack of invisibility by relying on another one of those traits that is more common in second children: charm. (Some would argue that charm is just a side effect of being a better liar, and they wouldn’t be wrong about that. Being charmed is another another way of being lied to—one so enjoyable that we don’t really mind it.)

It will be interesting to see what happens to Clyde’s second child traits in the next few months, when his sister leaves the state for college and he inherits the tile (Rank? Throne? Millstone around the neck?) of being “first born.” Early reports suggest that he is going to take over both roles, which would make him aggressively sneaky.

Save me.

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