Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Officially a Bad Mom

A warning for those prone to judging other mothers: The following episode includes Threats of Child Abandonment and Refusal of a Child's Request to Eat Carrots.

I took our kindergartener to Target on Saturday. Really, the trip went well, with all shopping missions accomplished, except that my daughter, a daydreamer and wanderer, had trouble Staying With Me In The Store. Now there's a skill any self-respecting mother expects her children ages four and up to have acquired and practice regularly. Alas, I rarely take my children shopping, both for their sake and mine. Hence the World of Target is fascinating to Daughter #1 and she wanted to linger in each and every aisle.

See, I have little patience for shopping to begin with, and after urging my daughter to, "C'mon, we're going THIS WAY," and hearing in response, "But Mommy, wait...come look at THIS," for the umpteenth time, I was like, "Look, you're going to get LOST, and I am going to have to LEAVE you here, and then you'll spend the NIGHT in Target."

Daughter blinked at me as if to say, Really? Sleep in the toy aisle, with the Bratz dolls you hate so much? Hunh...

We spent the remainder of the shopping experience with me, moving on just after kindly warning my Littlest Pet Shopper that I was soon to be out of sight, and her, somehow finding me right before she or I panicked. Okay, yes, I was pushing it a little; I needed to get my shopping DONE.

Today I took her to Cost Plus World Market for some Christmas Eve Eve recon. And it wasn't long before she was bugging me with the "Mom, can we buy one of these? How about just ONE of these and I can have it later? Mom, Mom, Mom! Pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaase?" I reminded her that we could head on home and review our copy of The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, because she was behaving just like Brother and Sister Bear at the supermarket.

She was carrying around some ridiculous piece of candy I would never buy--probably a cosmopolitan confection, given that it was Cost Plus--and I told her, "Go Put It Back. And then I will be right down this aisle." And I pointed.

I strolled down the aisle and waited. After a moment or two, just past the moment I thought my daughter should be reappearing, I poked my head around the corner and saw a World Market employee marching toward me, with my daughter and a concerned-looking couple (including pregnant woman) close behind.

"Are you her mother?" the Cost Plus Man asked.

"Yes..." I sighed, exasperated and without the tears of gratitude I am sure were expected at such a reunion of mother and child.

"See! Your mom was just a little preoccupied," offered the employee to my noticably UNemotional daughter.

"Wait, wait, wait," I argued. "As a matter of fact, I would say she was the one who was preoccupied." And I pointed at my firstborn.

The husband/partner in the pregnant couple kneeled down in front of our daughter. "I told you, your mother would NEVER leave you in a store all by yourself." He nodded at me, and I cocked my head at my kid to see if she might remember my threat from only three days before and give me away. But she only nodded silently. The World Market Man and the couple resumed their prior engagements, triumphant at a good deed done for the day.

Daughter and I hissed recriminations at each other: "You took too long! All you had to do was Put It Back!" "You were NOT where you said you would be!" "If you had stayed with me from the start..."

Before we left the store, we chanced upon the same couple and I suggested that my daughter could thank them for helping find me. She did, and we commenced some small talk in the bedding section.

I pointed at the pregnant woman's bulging belly and observed: "They're a lot easier to keep track of when they're inside, ha ha!" And then more seriously, "When are you due?"

"Early February," she replied.

Her eager husband/partner jumped in with, "So, what do you think: epidural or not?"

Whoah. You did NOT just ask a Random Woman in the store for labor advice on behalf of YOUR WIFE? Dude, please.

I have to say, it made me feel much better about my lost kid in the store. Bad Mother, meet Bad Husband. Of course, Bad Husband didn't even know he should be ashamed.

"You know what?" I generously replied, "I am a big fan of Having a Plan, and then being prepared to Go With The Flow" (or the lack thereof, in my own personal experience).

They are so lucky I didn't actually have a strong opinion on the matter. Probably he's really lucky.


Fast forward to the end of the day, when Littlest Daughter has been tucked into bed and her Big Sister is getting perilously close to her own witching hour: "Can I have just one more cookie?" she begs.

"Nope. You already had some. If you want something now, you can have carrots."

"Hmmph." She burrows back into the couch. Ten minutes later she emerges.

"Can I watch something?"

"Nope. It's very close to bedtime."

"Can I have carrots, then?"

"Well, now it's too late."

"But, MOM! You offered me carrots! You can't just take that away!"

"Oh, yes, I can. Offers expire."

Silence. What does expire mean?

"Offers don't expire!"

"Yes they do. I can even show you an offer I wanted to use that quite unfortunately expired."

She sputters, "That is SO unfair!" Pause. "You know, I worked SO hard All Day Long, and..."

"What??? You worked hard...what? Making gingerbread men? With candy? While eating it? Really?" And I am laughing very, very hard.

Daughter, now sobbing, angry that I am enjoying a comical moment at her expense, seeks solace with her sympathetic father, who puts her to bed.

"She wants you to kiss her goodnight," he says, emerging from the bedroom.

"Are you sure? She was really mad at me..."

I find her lying in her bed, looking at me a little circumspect. "You laughed at me," she whispers.

"I know...I'm sorry, honey, but I just didn't think you had a really hard-working day...I mean, most of it was fun..."

"Well, Mom, it was kind of hard work following you everywhere in the store..."

I paused. "You know what, kiddo? I'll give you that."

We apologized to each other and made a deal, both to stick with each other and to also look when the other one points.

So we don't miss anything, after all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It All Just Seems to Come Together...

We have ants. AGAIN. There's an ant crawling on my computer as I type. He's not part of a crowd, like the parade of ants continuing to prepare for the Rose Bowl in our kitchen. He's indicative of the degree of ant entrenchment around here. Ants own the place. They're so comfortable they veer right off the trail and march solo.

We still have lingering eau de skunk as well. Or at least I do. This has been confirmed by my boss, whose comments about my scent I could dismiss as his giving me a hard time, except for the fact that when I visited a classroom last week, a student sniffed the air and asked who brought the stench.

I have never been a believer in, subscriber to, or user of air fresheners. I like candles, and scented ones are okay, but because of my keen sense of smell, they simply add a layer of perfume to our home which already smells of old house, middle-aged dog, whatever we last cooked, that yucky floral detergent the sample lady at Costco talked me into buying against my better judgment, and quite possible cat pee. Not to discourage you from visiting or anything!

Right about now, though, I am willing to do anything to disguise the skunk smell from at least myself. I've been lighting incense and candles and assembling diffusers. We're going with Skunky Pear 'n' Patchouli as the scent du jour.

I've been trying to clean the house all day--my first day off for the holidays. Cleaning has looked like this: clean off a counter, then spray ants with vinegar, then wipe up ants, then move toys around, then tell the kids to stop messing up the room I've just cleaned, then fill up the washer with skunky smelling clothes, then curse at the ants who appeared in the spot I JUST CLEANED, then transfer one pile to another locale, then tackle the dishes, and then tell the kids, You know what? Just stop playing already. I can't take any more messes.

It's been a great day!

What made me feel marginally better, though, was breaking out the caulk gun. That may have something to do with the fact that it is called a gun. But if you have a house as holey as ours, sealing up a few cracks engenders a satisfying "I'm So In Control of My Environment Right Now" feeling in an out-of-control woman. I caulked holes below window sills and corners of baseboards, huge gaping crevices between our French doors and the Great Outdoors, and some cracks in the stucco outside, too, just because I was there, gun in hand.

In the midst of this warfare against wildlife of all varieties including human under the age of 6 (my husband might argue that the real range includes 41-year-olds), my buddy and the kids' godmother came over with a gingerbread house kit.

What I love about this lady is that I didn't even need to suggest that they build it outside. She headed out there of her own accord, and then worried about candy pieces on the ground attracting ants. Girlfriend, PLEASE attact the ants to the outside patio! Maybe they'll vacate the SPOTLESS counter by the sink in favor of a stray Skittle on the back porch.

What I don't love about this lady is that she left me with a gingerbread house that had not exactly stayed together as the directions and incredibly sticky frosting glue would suggest it should have. She took our kindergartener to the Nutcracker with a sheepish request that if I could please stick their creation back together, that would be great.

So I spent a rather inordinate amount of time trying to reassemble the goopy cottage in what I hoped was a safe place to be playing with sugar in my own ant-ridden abode.

It wasn't until the walls and roof collapsed for the third time and I stopped again to clean up stray sprinkles from the floor before ants got the whiff that I spotted the Caulk Gun...

And now we have a gingerbread house, assembled! Don't be tempted to take a bite.

Unless, of course, you're an ant. Why let a little caulk stop you NOW?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dear Santa II

This is probably Santa Letter Version 3.0. As with iTunes updates, the most recent missive seems to arrive before we've fully translated the previous one.

In this correspondence written on behalf of her sister, Daughter #1 reports that her sis is requesting a "Sindrely toy and a BrB" (Cinderella toy and a Barbie). "[Her little sister] has ben good thsa yer me too," she adds persuasively.

This is the little sister who asked me to call Santa on the phone in lieu of requiring her to sit on his lap. "I don't have his number," I replied.

"Mom," my two-year-old sighed, "He's the one with a red shirt!"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Not the Smartest Bears in the 'hood?

This morning as I was getting ready for work our cat joined me in the bathroom. I applied mascara and then watched as the cat appeared to settle herself down on the bathmat to my left as I stood at the sink.

Settling, settling...no, wait, that's CROUCHING. Mascara wand in hand, damned if I didn't helplessly observe my feline lift her tail and spray urine all over the alley between the bathtub and vanity, covering the shower curtain, the tile, the side of the cabinet, and the bathmat. Her litter box lay pristine only one foot away.

I should have known right then that today might be a pisser.

Flip ahead to 10:35 PM. I've survived a workday of solving problems, supporting staff, nodding agreeably at angry parents, and suspending students. I carpooled to the admin. staff party and back and I have poured myself a glass of wine. The cat is perched on the arm of the couch to my right; our neighbor's daughter and mine are asleep on the floor in the living room; youngest child is tucked in; husband is contentedly flipping through the newspaper on our bed.

All appears calm at the ranch. But if you lean in close for a sniff, you'll smell the skunk.

I'm talking about the skunk who lives under the next-door neighbors' house. The skunk whose cute little babies sprayed our dog this summer. The skunk who regularly digs in our garden. The skunk who has made us wary of letting the dog out at night. The skunk I forgot about tonight.

Until that familiar scent wafted through our window.

"Where's the dog?" asked my husband, nose wrinkled. "Is she out?"

I gulped.

He let her in. The three children in our house began wailing: "Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!"

"Yep," Husband shook his head. "She got sprayed."

Last time this happened it was 5 AM and it was summertime. We accidentally, sleepily, let our pooch into the house and discovered her malodorous state too late. Then we sequestered her until we could take her to the Dogwash, where I knew they would have a skunk solution. They did; I swear our dog never smelled so fresh.

But this time it's Friday night at 10 PM and it's cold outside and I'm tired and I already cleaned up cat pee once today. I can't put the dog back out to duke it out with skunks all night. THE SKUNKS WILL WIN.

So that is how our dog wound up in the shower tonight. And why, for lack of better ideas, we doused her with Target-brand body wash and the one little can of V8 we had on hand. And then sprayed her with hair detangler. That is why we have a cold, wet, still-smelly dog curled up on her dog bed, looking gloomy and sheepish.

As for me, I am done with wildlife for the day. Even though I smell like a second-class skunk (with detangler).


I'm back! With an update from 4 AM:

Dog begged to be let out. Husband's good idea was to go out in the backyard with her to ensure her Safety from Skunks. Husband watched dog doing her business...and then, unbelievably, WATCHED A SKUNK STREAK UP TO HER AND SPRAY HER IN THE FACE.

All three of us trooped back into the bathroom, where we did a 3:45 AM job of cleaning the dog. We had no more V8. Husband produced a mega can of diced peeled tomatoes. It was O'Dark Thirty. We were both grumpy. I looked at him incredulously, and asked, "Really, honey? In the shower? Tomato chunks aren't going down the drain." His only feeble defense, poor sleepless, skunk-victimed man, was, "I thought I'd ask."

So dog still smells terrible. Whole house reeks. No adults could sleep.

Now it's morning; the kids are well rested and curious about the stench.

As for me, I've become one with skunk. I am past the point of caring.

Which means you probably don't want to come over.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dear Santa, Don't Listen to My Mom

Dear Santa,

I am churning out Santa letters every day. I write; I fold; I enclose each letter in an envelope; I lick them shut; I write your address ("Santa CLos, Nrth Pul"); and I ask my mom for stamps. My mom takes my letters.

Today she took one to school because the scanner part of our printer doesn't work. She asked one of the secretaries to help and now she has a .pdf version of my Santa Letter and she can't figure out how to upload it to her blog. Maybe you will see it tomorrow. Maybe she will take a picture of it instead. Maybe she will mail it to the Nrth Pul.

I am writing letters to you for my sister, too, who is outsourcing all her Santa contacts. She is afraid of you: always has been; still is. When my mom and dad ask her about telling you what she wants for Christmas, she blurts out, "You can tell him." She does not want to go anywhere near Santa. Sorry.

But I have no fear of you. I love Santa, as I have loved all Disney characters and even stuffed Sea World creatures of unknown genus and species that we encounter at that theme park. I have been known to stand in line patiently and quietly for hours to talk with you, particularly at Disneyland when I was two, even when my mom and dad wanted to get out of line and go get a beer, already. Disneyland doesn't have beers. Which is why we go to California Adventure now instead.

Santa, my letters will tell you everything, including what my mom and dad want for Christmas. My mom wants a "noo cooompueud" (Ed.: "new computer"? Not...) and my dad wants a "noo foon" (Ed.: "new phone." Also, NOT.). My parents have been saying lots of things about you might not come, and you are watching, and you know if I am naughty or nice. Well, I am good. I am a good girl, and they should be glad I am not doing drugs or smoking or sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night.

Because you are watching you know that I am not doing those things. Only once in a while I am bossy to my sister and sometimes I yell too loud and I even don't cooperate. Otherwise, I am perfect.

My mom needs a new computer because she does not know how to post my Santa Letter. Help her out, Santa. Besides her being bossy and yelling too loud sometimes herself, she's pretty perfect, too.


Daughter #1

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Happy Hour

Yesterday afternoon the bridge out of town was closed for over three hours during evening rush hour for a woman deliberating a midspan jump off the ledge. Before traffic was diverted in both directions, one friend of mine spotted her sitting on the wall, legs dangling over; another witnessed her standing, arms outstretched and wobbling as she balanced herself on her precarious perch.

I know the reason the bridge was ultimately closed down completely is that some passersby encourage jumpers to do the deed, to follow through, to jump already. I suppose those kinds of glib remarks are easy to make from the safety of a speeding car.

I've always claimed to be willing to wait in traffic if someone's life is on the line. I'm not convinced that I can credibly declare that where I am heading or what I am needing to do or even My Rights As An Individual trump someone else's mortality. If being delayed or being diverted helps someone be helped, I can ungrit my teeth and manage my frustration. Of course, if traffic is caused by mere rubbernecking (i.e.,Look! There are some minorly crunched cars on the shoulder that we're all slowing down to look at!), well, I get pissed. Unnecessary traffic slowing irritates me.

Completely closing the bridge over the bay, the main thoroughfare into and out of the city in which my husband and I both grew up and work, is pretty unprecedented. And while the two of us were stuck on one side of the bridge for hours, both our daughters were on the other. Yesterday I had to enlist the help of my sister-in-law to pick up Little One, or she would have been stranded at preschool until way past closing.

Nevertheless, I marveled at the procedural accommodations made for this woman who contemplated her fate atop the bridge. I imagine the personnel--the individuals--who spent three hours with her yesterday afternoon and evening, ultimately saving her life. While they were there, doing what they do, negotiating, surrounding her, using extra care and research-based techniques to talk her down, the sun set, probably gloriously, as it did as I crossed the bridge on my way home this evening.

But they focused their attention on one life, one woman, one fellow human and her suffering. They must not have given up nor turned their backs nor shown their frustration at her obstinacy or ambivalence, or I suspect the outcome could have been different. Thousands of people were inconvenienced, but there was no apology, no public acknowledgment of the sacrifice made for our suicidal compadre. It was as if the unspoken statement from the authorities was, "This is what we do. And while we do it, you will wait."

I don't know why, but I find that comforting. I suppose it's possible that I could die quietly on the streets of a downtown American city if I looked like a homeless person sleeping in a doorway, but if I were to consider taking my own life from atop our city's bridge, people would take that seriously. They would stop the world for me. And try to make eye contact. And give me three hours of their undivided attention.

Is it at all a wonder that someone might want that kind of acknowledgement? Or desire proof that people care, whether or not that caring is what they're paid to do?

Ten years ago I was inspired to write a poem after I drove past an empty car on the bridge and heard later the driver had jumped:

Happy Hour

I drove over the bridge at 3:15 yesterday afternoon.
Squinting through the windshield, I marveled at the day. A huge white sail disappeared beneath the blue expanse,
and I imagined the cars in my lane teeming toward happy hour.

Then I passed your red compact car
abandoned at the edge,
a Sisyphean backpack of troubles left on the front seat.
You had just leapt, dropped, flown
from the ledge
and that realization changed the scene around me
like the opening and closing of a shutter.
I saw a sailor gasping in wonder at your plummeting body,
self left behind.
I saw harsh sunlight,
white knuckles on the steering wheel,
and too much traffic.

I saw your car,
the carcass of a wildebeest
who stumbled and fell
in the heady migration
of people
getting on with their lives.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flip Flopper

Studies apparently show that people perceived to be more beautiful by others have more symmetrical, balanced faces. This report suggests that symmetrical people smell better, too.

So I guess I am ugly and stinky, cuz I ain't symmetrical.

One way I know this is because at our local science museum, there's a gizmo that takes a picture of your face and then duplicates half of it so you can see what your "symmetrical" face looks like. Both sides of my face, when doubled, look very different from one another. (Here's an online tool, The Symmeter, you can use to try this at home. In an effort to make you feel better, it will show you how some celebrities--aka Beautiful Symmetrical People--look when halves of their faces are doubled too. Helpful Note: quality and hilarity of results are dependent upon how you "adjust the centerline.")

Another way I know that my face is not symmetrical is that it is obvious in any picture of me (and maybe to those of you who look at me everyday) that I have two differently-shaped eyes. One is round and one is almond shaped. I like them both equally, though one gets droopier when I am tired (even my droopiness is not symmetrical, alas).

And finally, I have one ear that sticks out markedly farther than my other ear. This ear, my right one, is my Flop Ear.

I am not sure when my parents first noted that one of my ears was looser feeling and stuck out, but early on I began sucking my left thumb while I used my right hand to flip my less-cartilaginous right ear. As it became more of an object of attention and affection, my ear became known as Flop Ear.

You can come over right now and look at, as well as pull on, both my ears for proof. My left ear bends closer to my head and willfully snaps back against it when it is flipped. The other ear...well...flops. And sticks out more. My parents claim that my right ear must have been folded over in the womb. I guess that's possible, if fetal me stayed tucked in one position longer than any baby who inhabited my womb.

I have never been at all self conscious about my Flop Ear. But the thumb-sucking connection to it became problematic, and when I was four, my parents offered me an incentive to quit sucking my thumb (I believe I was permitted to continue flipping my ear): If I relinquished my habit, they would buy me the doll I coveted. So I quit cold turkey, just like I stopped being OCD on a dime in middle school when my parents suggested I should go see a psychiatrist about my problem, which included vacuuming my room everyday (seriously, that was a problem, folks? Could I have that problem back now?).

It turns out I am highly suggestible to behavior modification. I earned that doll and I never even licked my thumb again (of course, it occurs to me now that I could have faked quitting, gotten my doll, and then sneaked the thumb sucking, but I was either too honest or that was too complex of a plan for me to pull off back then).

But the point of this story is that my new little brand-new niece has a Flop Ear, as her father proudly pointed out to me recently. It's a cute ear that sort of bends out of shape by itself, because it's looser than the other one. My brother is now convinced there is a genetic mutation for Flop Ears that might appear randomly in our family.

All I know is, my niece is not symmetrical, because of this ear. And yet my niece is undeniably beautiful.

There's hope for me yet. But I think I'll tackle my stinkiness first.