Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dear Santa:

I wanted to get a jump on writing you this year. In 2007 you had some difficulty delivering my son’s three-way game table. I’m not sure how this happened since you are Santa, you built the game table yourself, and I would have thought you’da figured a way to get it in the sleigh, but whatever. That’s last year and we’ve moved on. You’ll be glad to know that my son-who could not live without this-never plays with it at all.

This year I’m sending the list instead of my children. That’s because I’m tired of you bringing toys that a) they don’t really want b) are not at all practical c) require $40 bucks in batteries or d) have one million small choke-hazard parts. I’m keeping it simple this year since I know you’ve been feeling the effects of this fabulous economy. All those elfin layoffs must’ a been a headliner at the North Pole no doubt. I’m only asking for one small thing per family member. Since I’m not being selfish, I really hope you can deliver.

For my baby daughter, I’d like a glittery bike helmet.
No, you’re correct, she’s only 17 months old and way too small for wheeled vehicles. I’d like to have the helmet because this cherub of mine’s new habit is to rub her hands through her hair while she eats. I’m not sure if she is fascinated that she now has enough hair to grab onto, or if she prefers her locks to the typical napkin or shirt sleeve. Regardless, it’s gotten outta hand. Last night after her bath, we scraped enough remnants of Chicken Divan from her head to constitute a good-sized lunch. This morning her peanut butter waffle morphed into edible hair wax, and she distinctly resembled the Joker as she dragged her side-hair out into points. There was really no way to get rid of the greasy look without giving her another bath, so all day she looked like I wet mopped a cafeteria floor with her head. That, and she smelled a little nutty. A helmet would go a long way to alleviate the food-hair dilemma. She likes anything that glitters, so I figure she’ll wear it. Just make sure it isn’t too heavy. The last thing I need is her heavy helmet head diving into her pasta.

For my middle daughter I would like a feedbag. I know what you’re thinking Santa, “how cruel.” Rest assured it’s not for food, but for the million small paper scraps that follow my daughter like the dust ball behind Pig Pen. I check her hands nightly, but to my amazement, they really are just simple chubby digits, and not 10 sets of sharp blade action. The feed bag would allow her to cut all her crafts, cards, picture frames, paper dolls, books, library markers, tickets to performances, tree ornaments, and holiday pictures right over the bag, eliminating all that messy clean up. This would be great for both of us; I am going hoarse yelling and nagging about the constant ankle deep scraps I wade through, and she would no longer need to stomp, whine and clench-her-fists-while harumpfing-through-clenched-teeth about cleaning up her crap. It would save us both a lot of hassle. If you could make that feedbag pink or purple and put a big picture of Joe Jonas on it, I know she’d wear it always. (At least during her waking hours.)

For my son I would like to increase his hard-drive capacity by at least 25 gigs. While my son is very smart, he has apparently used up his current memory with information like the secret passes and codes to all his video games, or miscellaneous facts on how and when tornadoes strike, the different elevations of weather related disasters, and plans and traps while playing chess. There is no more room for things like where he put his library book, remembering to turn in his homework, or any sort of ability to stay the least bit on top of things or organized. At first I thought it might be a genetic flaw on the y chromosome, (it still might be) but while I can’t do anything about that, I can try to add some available HD to his person. This would save us both a lot of time-him wandering aimlessly about the house looking for some important school assignment or item, and me not having to swallow my tongue while my anger tries to push the word “idiot” out of my mouth. He’s not (anything close to an idiot), and I haven’t used that word (and won’t) but my controlling sense of order goes haywire when my son is clueless. I’m hoping the extra brain space helps, although, he’ll probably figure out a way to use it to construct a life-size replica of Sponge Bob Square Pants out of leggos, or develop an alternate-time system so he can play his Gameboy and his X-Box 360 simultaneously. All we can do is hope.

For myself I would like some type of reality-filter; something I can wear, ingest, sniff, or glue on, that would take the reality of things and filter that information so only the happy, content illusions get through. Something that allows me to see debris and hairballs on my floors and respond with a genteel smile, instead of a germ-vision infused stomachache. Something that would allow me to sit on the couch and laugh with my children about their lack of reading and inability to stay organized and exclaim mantras such as “At least we’re having FUN!” I’d like to see the crusted urine at the base of the toilet and giggle, kick up dirty laundry with my heels, laugh, dance and sing amidst chaos, destruction and filth. I’d like to go to bed every night dreaming of lollipops the size of my head and what movies I’m going to watch for the next 24 hours, instead of how I’m going to pay the bills and what dinners I can make for under 10 bucks. Since you are Santa, if there is any way you can make this filter also leach patience, I’d greatly appreciate it. Apparently I used up my store of patience in the second week of my marriage 10 years ago, and have been operating in the red ever since. I’m pretty sure my family would write you letters of thanks for this one.

For my husband I would like a pair of Allen Edmonds shoes, size 9 ½. Oh of course there are other things I’d love for him to have; a magnifying glass perhaps to see the fine details, or a wide angle lens to get a glimpse of the big picture. A honing device so he could find the laundry hamper instead of the floor, or special glasses that allow him to read between the lines. I’d love for him to have all these gadgets, but then he would actually have to use them. I’ll be honest with you, it’s a pretty good bet that those gifts will end up gathering dust on top of that must-have game table. So I’ll stick to asking for something I know he’ll wear and enjoy. Allen Edmonds shoes. After all, my man deserves a nice pair of leather foot bling. He does knock out the mortgage after all.
So you see, Santa, my list really isn’t all that long. It’s not selfish. Not filled with materialistic greed or avarice. (Unlike some people’s lists in New York, no doubt.) Simple, to the point. Downright altruistic. I’d really appreciate it if you could deliver these things for our family on time this year. I’m giving you 23 days.


Rachel G.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Things that go "crawl" in the night.

“Hello. My name is Rachel Vidoni, and I’m a Germ-A-Phobic.” I thought introductions were necessary here, in case you’re new to my blog or simply need reminding of my neurosis when it comes to all things germy. In fact, if you also belong to this particular support group, you might want to stop reading right now. Put your hands over your eyes and hit the red x up there in the corner. Tune in when I post another blog.

I also understand if, after reading this, you decide you don’t want to know me anymore. Turn in the friendship card. Cancel our coffee date. I don’t blame you.

One of my worst parental fears has come true; I met my neurotic phobia “head-on” if you will, last Saturday morning, when peering through my child’s hair, I found:

The “L” Word.

Yes, the modern day form of Leprosy, those nasty little crawlers that put the fear of God in the hearts of parents everywhere. My poor child was crying (who wouldn’t) and it was one of those moments where I absolutely, positively, had to be the adult lest I scar my child for life.
“You have lice.” I calmly said. “Dad is going out to buy some shampoo.” My child was freaked out, but my reassurance was downright medical. “It’s no big deal. We’ll take care of it, and you’ll be fine.”

At that point I instructed my child to stay in the bathroom (and remain there for hours…) while I slipped into the hallway, gagged, jumped up and down in disgust, and fought back bile and tears. Oh, quit your laughing. I know that if this is the worst thing I have to deal with as a parent I’m pretty lucky. I know that at least it isn’t cancer, or another dread disease. I realize we’ll get over it, and things will be fine. I get it.

Out of respect to my child, I will go no further describing my child’s involvement. But I will let you in on a few things that now go on in my head. (Not on my head, Praise you Jesus.)

First, I have morphed into one big itch. My leg itches-I have body lice. My eye twitches- the suckers are feasting on my cornea. My toe throbs-I’m sure somehow the vermin have found a way inside my muscle wall. I actually considered walking through the house with a blowtorch and a can of Aqua Net. The mass burnings of the Great Plague no longer elude me. My husband and I piled all the potentially “contaminated” articles onto the floor of the toy room, and proceeded to do laundry from there. In fact, I have one more load to go, 7 days later. I have decided that throw pillows are unnecessary; stuffed animals contraband. I have a bid on e-bay for three cases of clear shower caps, which I am considering making a dress requirement for all family and visitors.

I have told only a few family members and close friends-not even wanting to joke about it myself. “What will people think? Will they start staring at my head all the time? Will they refuse to let our children play together?” It’s one of the largest silent social secrets of all time, probably next to swinging. It’s something adults whisper about in hushed tones, only divulging their own personal familial battle after they have seen a friend’s RID bottle wedged between the folds of the newspaper while in line at CVS. It’s that illusion bubble popped, as people wonder, “WE can’t have it! We’re (rich, clean, smart, funny, normal…fill in your adjective).”

This event has transformed the way I see the world, and unfortunately, not for the better.
I am doing errands at Target, and see an employee scratch her head. “I bet she has lice,” I think. A few more employees later, I witness another itcher. “Yep, everyone who works here has it.” I wonder if there are nits lying around on the shopping carts I touch-the backpack from school, the plate the neighbors sent over with cookies. I stare at the backs of people’s heads watching for movement. I cringe (just a little) when my children want to have the neighbors over to watch a movie, or get out all the blankets and make a fort. The movie theatre is one big, fat contamination area. Airplane seats the enemy. My good friend (and secret-lice-sister) suggested taking plastic bags with me and laying them behind my children’s head in any public setting. Now you’re being downright silly, you say. Honey, that’s only part of my problem.

I now check all my children and my husband every night-and have discovered no invaders. One remaining issue resides in the fact that I must trust my husband to look through my hair and detect the undetectable. My husband (bless his heart) can’t find his car keys in the car key drawer. “Where did you find the keys?” he’ll ask as I hand them to him once again. “In the drawer,” I sigh, “where they always are.” “Huh,” he replies. “I thought I looked there.”
You can imagine the solace this gives me, as he exclaims, “No honey, don’t see a thing.” Since I have little confidence that he would be able to find anything, (were there anything to find) I shampooed with the special stuff twice, blow dry my hair every night- making sure to sufficiently burn my scalp in all areas-pull it back into a ponytail, and refuse to scratch my head with my fingers, lest I should accidentally get an invisible nit under my fingernails, and pass it along to one of my family. Would you like to have coffee now?

The people I have told, have been very supportive. One of my good friends told me that lice only like really clean heads, so I should take that as a compliment. She informed me that people who are homeless don’t have lice, because their heads can be so dirty. Well, if that’s the case, I’m packing the children up tomorrow because I found a perfect bench on the Common, with a fab view of the Frog Pond.

I had never heard this particular assertion, so I did a little research. There is enough conflicting web information to make a person scratch their head. Lice is hard to get rid of. It’s easy to get rid of. Lice only like clean heads. Lice don’t care how clean your head is, as long as you have one. Cover your head in mayonnaise and wear a shower cap to bed. NEVER use mayonnaise and a shower cap, it’s bad for you. Lindane is the best pesticide to get rid of the bugs. Lindane is an incredibly toxic chemical and should never, never be used to get rid of lice. The best yet, was that gasoline and kerosene get rid of lice. The one side effect is you might unintentionally off your kids. There were so many mixed messages, that the blowtorch and Aqua Net idea started sounding logical. My mother poo-pooed me. MY mother. The woman who handed me her phobia genes, said, “Rachel, relax. It’s like you’re trying to kill a fly with a brick.”

Well, at least I would know the fly is dead. I am nothing, if not psychotically thorough.
As my child complains about having to sit still for an hour while I comb my child’s hair, I think to myself, “There will a come a day, when you’ll be glad I was so nit-picky.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy Historic Day

"The experience of democracy is like the experience of life itself-always changing,
infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more
valuable for having been tested by adversity."
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr

Today I woke up-started the coffee, found my three kids happily playing in bed together. Everyone dressed early, fixed their hair, ate a quick muffin and half a banana. Together we watched various news channels, as commentators, authors, government officials and everyday citizens voiced opinions and sentiments about our United States of America. My hair is unfixed; I’ve no makeup on. I’m in my sweats ready to sit in front of the computer for hours and hours working today. My youngest daughter has a runny nose, my middle daughter’s socks do not match, and my son no doubt forgot something he was supposed to take to school. Today is like every other day.

And yet, today is like no day we have ever lived or witnessed before.

I’m trying to capture all the details of these moments, because the events of last night and this morning will forever be enshrined in school text books, encyclopedia’s; the invisible stone tablets of “the past” will now carry the carvings of now. I’m trying to impress upon my children, that they are living in a time when all things really are possible. That in a short span of 50+ years, our nation has gone from prohibiting black citizens of our country from eating in restaurants, drinking from fountains, having equal opportunities for quality education, to electing a black President who moved hundreds of thousands of people to vote, take an interest in national politics, and congregate in multitudes on the streets of every town to watch this final journey.

Regardless of how you voted, regardless of your political viewpoints and party choice, you must admit, today is an historic day. Notice where you are, what you’re doing, things you thought and feared. You’ll be regaling your grandchildren (maybe great-grandchildren) with the stories of “I remember when Obama was elected President.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Benefits and Consequences of Choice

Just returned home from voting. Yes, the Good American that I am fulfilled the duty-pinnacle of what it means to be a thriving member of our society. I can’t help but feel like someone who has purchased 100 dollars in lottery tickets for the billion-dollar pot, hoping my numbers will be drawn. Like when I hold two movies behind my back for the kids, because they can’t seem to agree on what to watch- the nation is holding those movies behind it’s back and I’m jumping up and down with my fingers crossed hoping mine gets picked. My husband voted earlier in the day, and since he has been home from the voting booth, the TV has been on, and will remain so until a winner is announced. In fact, there are only a few times in our lives when TV watching becomes the meth-drug we can’t live without; the OJ Simpson trial, the Bush-Gore presidential race, and the events of 9/11. My husband and I will be sucked in again, and no one-I repeat, no one- will be allowed to change the station. Not even to watch the weather, and we watch the weather channel a lot.

I admit it did feel good to vote, even if my vote doesn’t really count. I know everyone says all votes count, but not really. Those electoral votes are the ones that count-not the popular vote in which each person’s voice is really heard. (Remember the Gore-Bush election? Good ol’ Al did rise from the ashes to make a pretty fab documentary though.) But the fact that I get to make a choice, that I could walk into that voting place, fill in the bubbles of my choice, and then drive home without threat to my life, or the risk of bodily injury is one great benefit of our freedoms.

Regardless of who I voted for, when it comes down to the winner, I’m going to have to be satisfied even if it wasn’t my pick. That’s the consequence of choice- that there will be a majority, and the majority will win, even if it wasn’t my majority. If the person I voted for doesn’t get elected, I have more choices still. I can choose to bitch and whine about that person for the next four years-blame him for all the problems in our nation and rant and rave about how “I’m not responsible, because I didn’t choose him.” Again, I’ll be free to do this because I live in America, and as American’s we have a fundamental right to complain. I don’t think I have ever witnessed a presidential race where someone didn’t say, “I’m voting for the lesser of two evils,” or express their belief that our choices just “aren’t that great.” And when the winner is announced all heck will break loose (I hope I'm wrong here) as people claim voter fraud, miscounted and uncounted votes, and general election mishandling. After all, it’s only a fair system when your movie is chosen at random from behind your back. The other person no doubt, got screwed.

The ability to choose things in this great country has trickled down to the younger generations, where we give children the right to choose their lunch options at school, what they want to wear each day, how they would like their meals prepared, and what they want to be for Halloween. In fact, the ability to choose has gone a little far when it comes to Halloween and trick-or-treating.

When I was a kid, you went door-to-door, said the obligatory, “Trick-or-treat,” and then held out your bag while the man or woman holding the door open plopped something in your bag. Once home, mom and dad made you dump the sugar-booty onto the carpet, where they sat to inspect said merchandise. The pinnacle of the night (for me anyway) was to organize that candy into similar groupings. After grouping those treats, it was then you realized that the majority of your candy consisted of Dum-Dum lollipops, Double-Bubble chewing gum and Tootsie rolls. There was the sprinkling of mini-sized chocolate bars, to be savored for sure, because even my father was prone to steal those out of our bags, leaving us the stupid hard candy, gum and Laffy Taffy. They call those lollipops Dum-Dum for a reason.

The climate of choice has now drifted into the long-standing trick-or-treat tradition and forever changed the I-only-got-candy-that-sucked atmosphere. I had to farm out my older two children this year for trick-or-treating, because my husband was out of town on business. I was not able to watch them scamper up to doors, ring the bell, say thank you, and run to the next house. So my son trots home after a few hours, and proceeds to dump the contents of his pillowcase (I know, how gluttonously horrific) on the kitchen table. Piles of candy spill out, including 5 or 6 full size candy bars, and tons and tons of chocolate. One piece of Double-Bubble, and only two Dum Dums. Mind you, we only visit houses on two streets-the same two streets each October. “Wow,” I exclaim. “The neighbors sure were generous this year.” My son nods, and begins choosing the 20 pieces I let him keep. The rest gets put in a bowl for my husband’s office.

About an hour later, in waltzes my daughter with her normal size Halloween bag, and proceeds to spill the contents out for inspection. My daughter easily has less than half the amount her brother collected. Almost everything in my daughter’s pile is a Reese’s peanut butter cup. “Did you go to both streets?” I ask her. She nods in affirmation at which point I yell: “SON! GET UP HERE!”

My son trots in (again)—“What?”
“Why do you have so much more candy than your sister?”
Shrugs with creeping smile.
“Did the neighbors let you pick the candy?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he replies.
“Did you take MORE THAN ONE PIECE?” I ask incredulously.
“Well, they all kept telling me to take a handful, take a handful, so I did.”
“You actually took handfuls of candy from the neighbor’s bowls? I don’t even let you keep all that candy? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”
Shrugs again. “I was just doing what they said,” he tells me.
I’m wondering what Emily Post would suggest in my situation. Apology notes for the whole neighborhood? Personal door-to-door handing back of excess candy taken? Wear a black bag over my head in ridicule for having a 9 year-old boy act like a 9-year old boy? When did kids start getting a choice in what they received in their trick-or treat bags? When did neighbors start lowering the bowl and state, “Choose what you like honey?” And when did the candy morph from crappy starlight peppermints and Dum Dums, to all chocolate bars?

Choice. While my son chose to pillage the neighbors bowls (they asked him to of course), he still had to choose only 20 to keep. All that extra bounty for nothing. My daughter chose to take the high road and only take one, but the same one over and over. She is now getting sick of peanut butter cups and wants to trade with her brother and her friends. In good American fashion, they’re both complaining that they never get enough candy-they wish they would have gotten different stuff, they made a mistake, next year they're going to...blah, blah, blah.

Looks like they’re on the road to becoming good voting citizens.

Friday, October 24, 2008

More Inappropriate Costumes 2008

First I need to address this: I found it on the internet. Will the idiot who decided this was a good idea, please come forward?

In case you missed last years blog on Inappropriate Halloween Costumes For Children, you should really take few moments and reference it. Those of you still searching for the perfect outfit to throw on your little cherubs will not be disappointed with the selection, and there’s even more below.

My son only recently (as in three days ago) told me what he wanted to be for Halloween. After much discernment, thoughtful pondering and intensive research, he announced that he would like to be “someone in the war.”
“You mean, a solider, a military person?” Hoping he wasn’t opting for the bloody remnants of a fallen enemy.
“Yeah- I want to be a solider.”
“Just curious, why do you want to be that?” I ask. Again, listening for the words noble, or brave, or strong, or something resembling honor.
“Because I really want to carry a weapon. Can I have a real gun for my costume?”

Sigh. I pointed out to him that if he just wanted to carry a gun as part of his costume, there were many, many things he could dress as. A murderer. A Police Officer. Sarah Palin. Dick Cheney. A Russian bakery owner. An angry teenager. Why be limited? But he decided on the solider-so I’m stuck with that. The jury is still out on whether I’m going to let him have a “real” weapon. I don’t suppose he’ll be satisfied with the pop rifle we have from Bass Pro Shop. Maybe I can paint a lemon olive-green, and let him have a hand grenade.

I have convinced my daughter to dress as a gypsy this year. Mainly because I have all parts of the outfit already in our dress-up box. It’s also a bit nostalgic for me as well, since I used to dress up as a gypsy for Halloween all the time. Why? Because (again) mom had all the parts for the outfit at home. Everyone knows a homemade costume is 10 times better than those vinyl sheaths and plastic masks. At least that’s what mom sold me. It has been a bit difficult to explain to my daughter what a gypsy is. That’s an icon that has been removed from the history lessons and TV shows these days-so I look up some images on line. We shuffle through them, and she asks, “Yes, but what did gypsy’s do?”
Hmmm. “Well, they moved around from place to place.”
“That’s all?”
“Well, no, they played the tambourine and sang and probably stole stuff from people before they moved on.”
“The stole stuff?”
“Well, yes, but its not exactly the same as stealing stuff today…and..well…” At this point I have a son who wants to carry violent weapons and a daughter who I’m dressing up as a thief and vagrant. As a mother I have fed and clothed them, protected them from harm, kept them warm in the winter, and have occasionally provided laughter and good memories. Apparently their character and tendencies I cannot attest to.

In that light, I made a list of a few more Inappropriate Costumes, in case there are any of you out there who would like to join the ranks of Mother of the Year.

Burning Dollar Bill- spray paint a rectangle of foam green and affix an image of Jefferson on the front. Put 100’s in each corner. Shred some red, orange and yellow tissue paper and affix around a flashlight to symbolize a large burning flame. Put on your child’s head. Teach your child the following slogans to recite as he/she walks through the neighborhood; “The world is going to hell in a handbasket;” “Our president always sucks;” “Down with Government Control;” and lastly, “Nobody gives a rat’s ass about the middle class.”

A Made In China Sign- This costume is super simple and for the cash strapped family. All you need is a large piece of carboard-paint it white and stencil in, “Made in China.” Make sure you use lead paint. For good measure and to really get the point across, hang some milk bottles from the side, labeled “Melamine only,” and attach some stuffed (read: dead) dogs and cats for your child to drag along. If you’re really looking to be edgy, tape a bunch of fake money to the sign, since that’s where most of ours is going.

Politician In Handcuffs- (For the boy in your family) Another budget conscious outfit. Dress your child up in his/her Sunday best-slacks, blazer and shirt and tie. Handcuff your child’s hands behind their back, and hang a sign around their neck that reads, “Washington Politician.” Keep your neighbors guessing as they wonder, Kinky role play? Arrested for soliciting sex? Caught taking kickbacks from Columbia or Mexico? Cuffed for pilfering millions of our retirement dollars? It’s a costume and charades all rolled into one.

Angelina Jolie-Pitt- (For the girl in your house) For the social worker and do-gooder in every girl! Dress your daughter in a fancy, billowy frock, and give her a pair of those big, red wax lips. Tape 27-35 pictures of multi-national babies and a few sets of twins, to the outfit. Place crown on her head with glowing halo. For your daughters best friend, have her dress in plain clothes, ruffle up her hair, and attach 27-35 multi-national and twin life-like baby dolls to her outfit. Place sign on her back reading, “Nanny who really takes care of state-spoon-like-infant-collection.”

Well, I hope that provides parents who are at a stalemate with their child, some additional costume alternatives. It doesn’t really matter if your child understands it, its all about how much you and your friends can laugh at how clever you are. I’m up for ideas. Any additional last minute suggestions?

Monday, October 20, 2008

When I’m 64…

My thirty-something birthday was last week, and I had a marvelous time. My husband made his famous (and my favorite) Eggs Benedict for breakfast, I shopped all day with my mother, and then went to eat dinner (sans children) at a fancy restaurant in Boston that does not serve mac n’ cheese or chicken strips. I was able to order what I wanted without thinking about what child I would share with, and didn’t have to say, “please sit down and stop kicking the seat,” once. I threw back two French martini’s and didn’t worry about who was going to put the kids to bed. It was a great day.

But, you know you’ve reached a new age plateau when the gifts you request for your birthday (or even Christmas for that matter) go from a want to a need. In fact, I think I reached that Grown Up Place, because this year my gifts were practical and needed. I opened up my new slippers and socks with the same joy my daughter opened her Hanna Montana wig last Christmas. I put on those slippers and haven’t taken them off since. I oohed and ahhed at the two kitchen whisks I received from my sister-in-law, to replace the one that my son decided to use for a modern sculpture of a banana. Now I can effectively beat eggs and whisk gravy using more than one whisk loop at a time. I got a gift card from my parents-in-law, and purchased two shirts that do not have oil stains or bleach marks; shirts that have only belonged to me and did not come from my Mother’s Closet—the only other place I really get clothes. My husband got me sleep wear, but before you go thinking it’s something remotely sexy, it was a pair of black spandex capris and two cotton tank tops. I asked for these because my old 80’s spandex shorts are now to worn to be worn, and I’m sick of turquoise. I also really need new underwear, but I have to save something for my Christmas list.

I realize that I’m starting to sound pathetic. I fight and fight to keep that youthful attitude, appearance and desires going, but honestly, that kind of mentality takes excessive energy. There aren’t many things these days that sound as good as laying in a warm bed with a good book. When I shop (much to the dismay of my sisters and close friends) I am drawn to things described as “cozy,” “cotton,” or “machine-wash-tumble-dry,” and not “trendy,” “sexy,” and definitely not “dry-clean-only.” I would rather wear something comfortable, that does not prevent me from taking deep breaths, show my mid-riff when I raise my arms, or pinch my crotch when I sit or bend over. If the care instructions require anything more than washing and drying, I leave it on the rack in the store. Hang dry? Nope. Hand wash? Hell no. Dry clean only? I can guarantee it will remain dirty.

Perhaps I’m an old soul, as they say, for my desire for comfort goes way back. My mother used to incase all the seams of my nightgowns in flannel because they itched me. I refused to wear overalls because they pinched my crotch when I bent over to play. I wore my socks inside out until—well okay I still do—because the seams bother my toes. I even made sure my wedding dress had enough room so I could eat without feeling all gassy. My mother calls me a high-maintenance princess. I think I’m really a 65 year-old trapped in a young woman’s body. In fact, my two favorite articles of clothing happen to be two cozy cardigans I wear around the house.

Many people grumble about getting older. I think it’s been kinda neat so far. I admit I haven’t been hit with any huge health issues, failing joints, or memory problems lasting more than 24 hours. Here are three things I am still looking forward to when I “grow up:”

The ability to sleep wherever and whenever I want.
This has to be one of the biggest benefits I see of being old. How great to sit in a chair, chin resting on your neck, mouth agape, blaring TV on, and be completely asleep! Sound sleep always eludes me, even with four pillows, a feather comforter, a lavender eye mask and a Tylenol PM. I am such a light sleeper I wake up to water dripping, creaking loft ladders, and whimpering children. I deal with a snoring husband, an alarm clock that is too bright, and blinking phone lights. I cannot wait to be older and be able to fall asleep sitting up, or better yet, in mid sentence. How awesome to sleep so soundly that the sound of my own breath does not wake me, or drool startle me. I can’t wait!!

To unabashedly wear comfortable things.
I’m not quite at the elastic waist band phase yet, but I look forward to it. Not that I’m a big eater, but I love the thought of being able to eat, say, Thanksgiving dinner, and not have to lay down or unbutton my pants to breathe afterwards. The idea of buying shoes because they feel like walking on marshmallows, not because they accentuate my pedicure, is enticing. Imagine how much happier women would be if their feet didn’t hurt all the time. I also wouldn’t need to be concerned with dry heels, and worry and fret that people are talking about how I should really use some lotion.

Okay, so I had to mention it. In fact, if I could catalog-order menopause, I would have done it yesterday. How great not to have to worry and fret over birth control! No more periods! No more marks on the calendar! Gone is the apprehension that you’ll be caught off-guard and without a panty liner to your name. Oh sure, I know there are side effects and problems associated with menopause. But I figure it can’t be any worse than my current mood swings, migraine marathons and general bitchy-ness, right? Just ask my husband. He’s campaigning for my menopausal age too. In fact, in another lifetime, on another planet, it would be neat if you could check out a uterus like a library book. Want children? Go to the Uterus-ary. Done? “I’d like to return my uterus now. It was great! Gave me three perfect kids. I’d recommend this one for sure, but I’m all finished with it, thanks.” No late fees apply.

There are many great benefits to getting older, I think we all just spend a lot of time focusing on the negative. The pain. The inability to see or hear well. But there are good points too. What about you? What are you looking forward to when you Grow Up?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ways 2 $ave (That you may not have thought of.)

Ahh, it is becoming a scary world out there-full of uncertainty, high prices, and questions without answers. This was brought home to me the other day when I stopped to chat with a neighbor who was walking down the street. This gentleman neighbor of mine is a retired banker who’s world view is pretty similar to those people who stand on the street corner holding the sign that reads, “THE WORLD IS GOING TO HELL. REPENT NOW!”
“So,” he says to me. “Looks like the world is going to end since they didn’t pass the (first) economic reform bill.”
“Oh they didn’t?” I reply. “I hadn’t heard the lastest. I’ve been working on the computer all day.”
“And you didn’t tune into the news? Yep, it didn’t pass. I hope you have a gun.”
“A gun?” I ask.
“Yeah, to protect yourself when the people start coming for your money and land. ‘Cause they’re going to come.”
(Chuckling a uncomfortably because I’m not quite sure if he is serious…) “Oh, I have my husband to protect me.”
“You’re gonna need more than that,” he replies.

Well, so maybe I will. While we are not members of the NRA, we do own a gun. All you friends and family who covet my stuff better keep your distance. I took shooting lessons from Sarah.

But that got me thinking. The atmosphere has changed. I can no longer go shopping and experience that silly rush to my head, that dizzy-buzzed feeling I get when I spend money. Oh, I still spend it, but that warm fuzzy feeling I used to have, has been replaced by a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I really shouldn’t be here, really shouldn’t be buying this beaded pumpkin placemat, should instead be at home churning my own butter and learning how to sew my own clothes. As if the changes in my shopping habits weren’t enough, I now can no longer enjoy my second life’s passion: eating chocolate. Now I am reading the back of all packages that may perhaps contain any type of milk or milk by-products while simultaneously looking for the words “Made in China.” Us Americans are happy to support their economy by purchasing a million items from the 99 cents store, but now we’re dying or getting sick doing it. I suppose that age-old adage about no free lunch really isn’t bunk.

For those of you (including myself) who are now on a spending freeze, and rationing out the oreos to make them last longer, I have come up with a few new ways to save money that you may not have thought of. 4 easy ways to cut back and spend less.

#1: Stop Shaving
While at Costco the other week I needed razor cartridges, and focusing on the 25 options to choose from, was engrossed in making sure I bought the appropriate razorhead for my razor. After chucking it into the cart, referenced the price, and immediately pulled it back out of the cart as if diseased. Surely there was a typo: surely a 10-pack of razor cartridges does not cost $40. Surely. I use the real razor as opposed to the disposable because it was one way to try being “green,” but there are no cost breaks for the earth-consious consumer. $40 could by me a cart full of produce, pay my cell phone bill, save 40 kids in some third-world country, or purchase all my Christmas gifts from the 99 cents store. In fact, I could probably purchase a small microwave for that amount, strip the metal off and have my husband use his band saw to slice teeny-tiny rectangles off for me to build 1,000 of my own razors. I don’t get the marketing frenzy. It’s not as if hair doesn’t grow back. It’s not like Gillette or Venus has to think, “Hurry, jack that price up, they may never shave again.” I think razors should be more like cigarettes. Those companies know how to keep prices relatively low. You can get 200 cigarettes per carton, at about $37.00 per carton. That’s 200 hits of perfect (if cancer causing) lovin’, to my measly 10 razor heads. In fact, if I stopped shaving and took up smoking, I would still save money. In addition to the financial facts, refusing to shave would send the world a message that it’s really all vanity anyway. We should be focusing on the character of a person, not whether or not they have a beard, 5 o’clock shadow, canine legs or a toupe under their arm. Smooth skin is overrated. And expensive. Stop shaving and you’ll save a bundle.

#2: Go Vegetarian
Another big money sucker is flesh. No, not the illegal-can’t-tell-your-wife-about-it kind; the big mammals that humans have decided should be food. I’m not a big carnivore by nature anyway, but I do enjoy my husband’s BBQ ribs and a juicy hamburger on occasion. Again, I tend to purchase my meat at Costco, because I refuse to pay $10 for three small boneless, skinless, chicken boobs. In fact, there is probably more meat on my sagging-nursed-three-children chest than the average poultry knocker. Most grocery stores average $4.99 a pound for chicken (not on sale of course), but at Costco you can get 8 packages of chicken breasts (2-3 boobs each) for about $20.00. Now twenty bucks to most is not a big deal. I have gone through twenties like tossing pennies in a fountain; not remembering what is was I even spent it on. Things like lunch money I didn’t get the change from, pizza delivery and tip, a gratuity for the newspaper guy, a Starbucks, a donut, a quality hamburger for the kids on the way home from ball practice. But $20 will still buy a decent amount of produce, and pasta pasta pasta. A couple 5lb bags of potatoes. Those starches really do stretch the food budget. Skip meat altogether, save your money and your colon. Now there’s a strategy a person could really get behind.

#3: Buy a Cow
Not just for the dairy farmer any longer, owning a cow is now a possibility for even those square-footage-challenged dwellers. According to Mydairycow.com, owning a dairy cow has never been easier. This answers the question, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free,” because a gallon of milk is now just under four dollars. Not free in the least. While forking over the $2,000-$3,000 for your initial heifer investment may seem tough to stomach, it has many cost saving benefits in the long run. You never have to buy milk again. Cream for your coffee? Hang on, let me squirt that for you. Butter for your toast? Keep rolling that little glass jar back and forth on the table. (It doubles as entertainment.) Need sour cream for those veggie nachos? The milk under the water heater is just for you. Make your own yogurt, cream fraise, whipped cream and artisnal chocolate. You’ll be the Bree Vandecamp of your neighborhood-loved by one and all; not just for your farm fresh goodness, negative carbon-printing foot and green world view, but also your exotic house pet. Did I mention all these products are melamine free?? No label reading needed.
But what about space? What about mess?

You’ll be glad to know that even those who live in apartments can own their own dairy cow. According to the above website, their “Apartment Friendly cows are bread to be 2/3 size (about the size of a large doberman) and make great watch cows, too!” You can now cancel your ADT home security contract with a clear conscious and save additional dollars. In the event an intruder were to make a midnight visit to your home, they’ll no doubt take a time-out to investigate your new pet. While they are doing that the cow’s mooing will alarm you to an unwelcome guest, and just when the intruder squats down to squirt a little la leche goodness into his/her mouth (because even illegal activity makes a person thirsty) they will get a swift kick to the head, knocking them unconscious. Heavy sleeper? No worries! When the intruder regains consciousness and leaves, your little bovine will have left a hoof mark that noone could mistake. Safety on so many levels! The mess is no issue either, as you can also purchase their “environmentally friendly waste converter and power your home on the dung your cow produces each day!” Another savings! Is there no end?? Why don’t we all own cows?

#4: Put you and your family on self-imposed house arrest.
The benefit of self-imposing this sanction, is the absence of those clumsy ankle monitors. You now have one-up on Martha Stewart, and she has everything. There will be an occasion where you will have to go to the market to replenish the food stores and toilet paper. Outside of these times, here is a brief listing of the benefits:

  • If your children do not go to birthday parties, you do not have to purchase presents.
  • No playdates means you do not provide snacks and therefore save on your food bill.
  • No trips to Target or Walmart alone save at least a hundred per trip.
  • Not going anywhere means no driving, which means, no gas, no emissions, no greenhouse effects, no used oil waste, no containers of Wet Ones used to clean up vehicle vomit.
  • Not going shopping means no new clothes-which forces you to recycle the ones you have, patch the holes, and add lengthening fringe around hems. Recycling clothes will put less trash in the landfills, let some poor village 8 year-old go home and play for once, and reduce the amount of dyes and fabric sizing that gets dumped into our water systems each year.

What about work? you ask. And school?
Work is overrated. No doubt they aren’t paying you what you’re worth, and because of our depressed economic state you’ll probably end up losing your job anyway. Don’t fret about this though, because you’ll be collecting unemployment wages, which aren’t much, but if you follow some of these above mentioned cash-saving ideas, will be more than enough to get by. It’s okay to send the kids to public school, but make sure they walk and bring their lunch. It’s a free day of babysitting, giving you and your spouse time to rekindle that spark, ignited so many years ago. This saves on marriage counseling bills, and since you aren’t driving anywhere forces you to stay at home and work on communication.

You see friend, I have your best interest at heart. Sure, canceling the cable or downsizing your long-distance package with your cell phone carrier are good ideas. But they’ll only take you so far. These ideas are for those looking for even more ways to cut back, spend less and save the earth. As mom used to say,
“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Monday, September 29, 2008


Part I:
This summer I traveled to Gregory, South Dakota with the baby, my mother, aunt and my 90 year-old grandmother. Our trip was something reminiscent of National Lampoons Vacation, but with ample does of estrogen therapy and prozac. We made our way through the trip, but someone really needs to come up with a law against having that many genetically related women together in a vehicle. Either that, or offer free counseling coupons to those who find they have no choice. Perhaps Sarah Palin could suggest that type of bill, or do the counseling herself, since she is so experienced in the stressful-life-situations category.

The Mission of this trip:

To take my grandmother back to visit her three remaining siblings. Characterization follows:

Mabel, 78; Affable and smiley; is repeatedly called, “Mabel-Betty-Grabel” by my aunt. Plump and squishy when hugging, strong farming woman whose hands could snap you in two if she decided it needed done. Bakes kolache (a Czech sweet bread) worth dying over. (Or at least losing a finger.) Funny, charming, and deafer than a shrew’s husband. She refuses to wear hearing aides, although at 78, she could get a lot of longevity out of them, and could actually enjoy a full conversation without turning her head to the side, pointing to her ear and shaking her head no. She’s happy to yell, “I DI'N’T HEAR THAT..” but she seemed to prefer the miming.

Lambert, 81; Slender and agile, never drove a car that anyone can remember. Walks all over town, all day long, spending a good bit of time in the back of Louies Downtown Market, playing the slots. A peaceful, docile soul, never married, has no children. Lives alone in a little apartment, that no one has ever been in. He meets you on your way to his door, and closes it behind him. Quick to smile, and responds to all questions and comments, with “Ohhh….Okay.” Acutely sensitive to sound, his hearing is sharper than a blind water mammal. More than likely can hear dog whistles and Angel’s whispering, and has been witnessed plugging his ears, and then flipping off loud trucks that barrel down the street.

Florence, 90; Grandma’s got the strong genetics, strong spirit and sharp tongue. Bestows compliments sparingly, and those she gives are attached to some kind of barb. The only one of her remaining siblings to have left the grain-country of South Dakota, and move west by herself. Has fortitude of character that masks a melancholy soul. Her voice is soft and high pitched, uncharacteristic of her brusque personality—reminiscent of a child who strains her voice over a froggy throat to be heard. Wears two hearing aides that whistle like tea kettles more than they aide in her hearing. Is constantly changing their batteries, and turning them up, although this never amounts to much except more squealing.

Richard, 93; Lives in an assisted living facility that is always cold. Married (for the first time) Marie in his 60’s, whose passing he laments with teary eyes daily. He wears a folded paper napkin inside his baseball cap to insulate his head that hasn’t seen hair in years. He’s mostly bones, losing weight because he “don’t like most of what they fix aroun' here.” But when eating dinner with our family at the farm, can put away his weight in food. He can regale you with stories of his past, the war, and growing up destitute on the farm, but has trouble remembering which face belongs to who, what day or month it is, and if he told you that it’s always cold downstairs in the morning. Never had children of his own. Has a “good ear,” and a “bad ear,” even though "good" is relative because the “bad one” is pretty much there for looks. You must make sure you communicate to him in his, “good ear,” or you won’t be heard.

A typical luncheon or dinner went something like this:
“WHAT?” (turning good ear towards you)
(Smiling and pointing to ear..)
(follow squeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaalllllll squeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaallllllll down the hall. Grandma is adjusting her hearing aides again.)
okay. I wouldn’t mind some tea. is there tea on? who’s here again?”
(Lambert arrives.)
“Ohhh…ohkay. Whatcha yellin for?”
(In normal voice) “Sorry, I can’t remember who I need to yell at and who I don’t.” He chuckles.

These conversations (enough to make even Gordon Pask shake his head) continued at about 90 decibels, and Uncle Lambert would listen through finger-plugged ears. After a couple excedrine migraine pills, you were able to sit back and enjoy the conversational dance:
yell response-leanforward-turnhead-repeat

Part II
While communicating with my great-aunts and uncles was a bit difficult and included a lot of yelling, it suddenly occurred to me, that communicating with my husband is not much different.

It’s not news to anyone, including my husband and me, that our communication skills are a tad lacking. We addressed it in pre-marriage counseling, and again in after-marriage counseling, and to this day, I’m not sure we’re any better at communicating-except for the fact that we both understand that it’s not really our strong suit. I tend to see the forest, my husband sees the trees. I phrase things in questions, (typically rhetorical where the only answer I’m looking for is, yes, or sure.) My husband doesn’t phrase anything, just makes statements in which I am to surmise the request, like, “The laundry needs done,” or “registrations are open for baseball.” My husband also has a “good ear,” and a “bad ear,” and while they are not quite like Uncle Richards, I at least need to verfiy which one is facing me.

Being the forward thinkers that we are, and wanting to give that silly Gordon Pask a run for his money, my husband and I have developed our own communication style in which we talk only in predicates and prepositional phrases, leaving out or mumbling the subject and verb of each sentence whenever possible. This keeps things lively, as we are never sure what to expect or whom is going to do what. A recent conversation went like this:

Husband: “jcnejrheoicase, set the coffee.”
Me: “What? I didn’t hear you.”
H: “sjkdkirjfeoikj,” (head peeks around the corner, good ear towards me) “set the coffee.”
M: “Yes, set the coffee.”

At this point I’m feeling proud for a number of reasons.

  1. I clarified what he was saying, by voicing that I didn’t hear him.
  2. After he repeated the phrase, I said to, yes, set the coffee. As in, please do it.
  3. I am thrilled that he offered to set the coffee for me so it would be ready when I woke up.

You can imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning to no hot coffee, no grinds in the drip basket, no water in the reservoir--nothing. No coffee. I march into the bedroom where he is still in bed. Poke, poke, poke.

“Where is the coffee? I thought you said you were going to set it?”
“No,” he sleepily replied, “I asked if you had set the coffee. You said, yes, I set the coffee.”
No,” I inform him. “I thought you asked, do you want me to set the coffee, that’s why I tried to clarify what you said, and then I said, yes, set the coffee.”
I marched out of the room, frustrated, but not surprised. At least we were talking about the same subject.

Another example of our completely functional communication style: yesterday morning I was reading to him some titles of recipes from an old cookbook. Most all the recipes contained a fair amount of gelatin, which I find a heinous ingredient, especially recipes requiring the use of a mold, say in the shape of a jumping salmon or pointy high rise circle. I was reading some of these recipe titles to him:

M: “Honey, listen to this one: Nova Scotia Mold. Doesn’t that sound disgusting? It’s also got your favorite ingredient (chide chide)…salmon.”
H: “Hmmm. Salmon huh? My favorite.”
Imagine my lack of surprise when later that night, my husband is leafing through the very same cookbook and says to me:
H: “Oh, no way. Listen to this. Novia Scotia Mold.”
M: (Staring at him like he has three heads and with annoyed tone in my voice) “Yeah, remember, I mentioned that one earlier? The salmon?
H: “You read this one to me? (With no-you-didn’t-tone) I don’t remember you saying the mold part.”
M: “I read it. That same one. Nova Scotia Mold.”
H: “I must have tuned you out then.”

Unfortunately, truer words are rarely spoken. You may notice that we also communicate with a substantial amount of tone in our voice. This tone has many species, but derives from the family sarcasticus-majorus. When you leave out the subjects and verbs of your statements, you have to fill that void with something. We find that tone really helps to set the, well…tone.

Part III
Lambert and Grandma are visiting outside.
L: “So Flo, how’s your ticker?” (Thumping his chest with his fingers.)
G: “My pickup?”
L: “NO, YOUR TICKER.” (Thumping chest again.)
G: “oh, I don’t have a pickup. I have a car. I don’t drive much anymore, my son takes me where I need to go.
At this point, Uncle Lambert catches my eye, we share a smile and quiet chuckle, as he explains again,
G: “oh, my health. it’s fine,” she says with a wave of her hand. Apparently she had more to say about the car.

Part IV
It’s nice to know that as dysfunctional as our communication is, at least it is preparing us for life as old folks. We won’t be surprised or disgruntled when our conversations turn out something like this:
Husband: “jkdjoiweus sjiodffa wqwen,ricnm YOUR PAST ASS.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Beyond #2

Warning: Blog rated Mature Audiences Only (for gross content.)

I would like to know why, amidst all the advice I received from family and friends over the years (especially pre-kid years) that no one, I mean NO ONE, mentioned how much time I would spend dealing with poop.

I’m sure you’re thinking I have some fascination with this particular waste product, some type of fecal fetish, or at least a form of obsession. While I do admit to a mild case of OCD, it generally surrounds the abhorrence of germs and a preoccupation with personal and family safety. No poop issues here.

But I have spent the last 9 years of my life inspecting poop and trying to label, describe, and define it. I’ve never been one of those parents who can simply ask their child, “Did you go number one, or number two?” It’s way beyond #2. I can’t be alone in this, and yet, I have never seen an article in any parenting magazine labeled: “Poop Signs and Symptoms: What to look for in your child’s turd.” My son having a variety of lower GI issues, we’ve had to monitor for size, consistency, and regularity. Since there are no poop-identifier-cards (like the tick-identifier-cards we get at the beginning of each summer), we create analogies in order to communicate to the doctors what we are dealing with.

Was it the size of a small cucumber?
Was it in one long piece, or were there many smaller pieces?
Did it look firm, like a zucchini, or was it softer and frayed around the edges, like fresh mozzarella au jus?
Was it made up of smaller poop balls, or did it look formed, like a playdoh roll?
Was it the length of your finger? Your hand? Your arm?

There is nothing like bonding with your husband, both heads pondering the contents of the toilet, monocles in hand.
“What do you think Inspector Vidoni?” I ask in my best English accent.
“Wow, Inspector Vidoni. Bigger than a baby carrot, not quite a pickling cuke, I dare say,” he replies.

With our middle child it was less about form and more about content. As the remains were usually always of the creamy variety, we opened diapers, held them to the light, and examined for foreign substances.

Was there mucus present?
If so, what color was it?
Was it separate from the poop or mixed right in?
Was there blood?
If so, what color was it?
Bright red? (okay) Black? (bad)
How much mucus and/or blood was there?
Less than a tablespoon? More than a dollop? A smidge? A smattering? Enough to butter a bagel, but not enough make a sandwich?

If we found an offending diaper (and we often did) it was saved until the doctors visit, so she could also, examine, inspect and surmise.

Enter child #3. I prayed this one would have no GI issues or food allergies leading to blood in the stool. And guess what? She’s fine. Allergy-and-GI-problem-free. No reason we need to search her diaper for strange substances or try to effectively describe size and shape. Sure she eats it, but still.

No, this child is blessed with bowels that work properly even if her poop-timing is all off. My last child’s favorite time to poop is during her bath. I suppose there is nothing quite so relaxing as relieving yourself in four inches of lukewarm water. I personally haven’t tried this, but perhaps I should. I’m always hoping it’s just a bit of gas—all that grunting and bubbles—but inevitably those are sure signs of doodie. The unfortunate bit for me is that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill poop. There are no floating turds, easy to scoop out of the water with the plastic bath cup. I’m not that lucky. My youngest leaves behind (pardon the pun) what can only be described as…butt vomit.

I know. I’m gagging too. Currently, as I re-live this event that happened only minutes ago, I’m gagging. I skipped dinner and un-tapped another beer because, quite frankly, I feel nauseous.

Because my daughter has only two front bottom teeth, and yet eats everything found hither and yon, quite a large amount of that matter remains in original form and escapes mastication. The good news is that she is able to eat without gagging and choking. Those little toothless mandibles really do their job in this department. The bad news is that what happens to miss the gums, comes out in the same form it went in. Chunky, colorful, resembling goulash or perhaps veggie stew. At least that’s what tonights looked like. After emptying the bath water all that remained was extremely reminiscent of what I find in my sink drainer after I’ve completed the dinner dishes. It took all my strength, a lung-full of air and four (yes I’m wasteful) Brawny paper towels to eliminate her remains.

I’m blogging about this because I’m wondering if I’m alone in it. While I know that my baby is the only one in my town, in my state, in my country that eats fecal matter, I’m wondering if I’m the only parent who has had to dedicate a good portion of their life to poop inspection. And why hasn’t there been an article in Parenting magazines on this? (No one scoop me; it’ll be my first query letter.) Why hasn’t Mike Rowe been to my house to tape an episode of Dirty Jobs? There are days when I could really give those cesspool pumpers and cow inseminators a run for their money.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dear Christine...

Dear Christine L. Alaniz,

I must admit, I was surprised to find that you were the Chief Engineer for the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan. I was certain that I would find the face of some male on your web site. I’m glad to see a female presence there at your engineering offices. For one, it sends a great message to the girls of today, that an engineering degree is within their reach. That, and seems to me that most minivans are driven by mothers. Sure dads may pitch in now and again while on a long road trip, but they aren’t typically driving to their lunch meetings, golf games and hostile corporate take-overs in the family ride. So they shouldn't be the main designers.

I’m not sure how long you’ve been at Dodge, but I have no doubt that your womanly vision is to be credited with a few of the new features of the 2008 Caravan. Those Stow-n-Go seats are perfect for fitting the new swing set in the back (those big wooden ones I can’t afford) or hiding my latest score at Marshalls extra 50% off sale. The Swivel-and-Go seats also look like great van bling, and no doubt will make it easier to buckle in squirmy little children everywhere, seeing as how the big side door openings just don’t give you enough room. I can’t say I’m sold on the removable plastic table, as if encouraging my children to eat food in the van with a bucket of friends is a good idea. It is also way too reminiscent of an RV trip, and may make the kids think that everywhere we go is going to be a jolly-good-time. Sometimes the trip to the bank and grocery store need to be boring, just to remind kids how good they really have it and that yes, errands suck.

I’m a proud owner of a 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan and while I know that my van is the Jurassic equivalent of the Atari game system, it is currently paid off. I say currently because there is a remote possibility that we may need to borrow against its $300 value in order to pay for the gasoline needed to drive to work to earn the salary that buys the gas. Until that moment though, we hold the title, which means we will be driving the sucker into the ground, until it foams at the hood, until we find it floating belly up in our driveway.

Which leads me to why I’m writing you in the first place. Since my van is such a relic, it obviously didn’t come with those fancy shmancy tilt-a-whirl seats. It did however come with two built in 5-point harness child seats. I must say that I have loved these a great deal. It has made traveling with children a tad easier, in that I don’t have to lug around an additional 40 pound car seat in order to keep my children safe. It is also a nice option in case I need to transport another child whose parent insists they be in a legal 5-point harness. I’m happy to shoulder belt my own kids in the very back and hope like heck we don’t get rear-ended. But I need to let you know of a serious design flaw, one that I have yet to see remedied in your new models.

While driving to baseball practice the other evening, in a rush and harried as usual, my 9 year-old son is mimicking my 1 year-old daughter (as brothers are wont to do), until he realizes that the gagging sounds he thinks are hysterical, are in fact the precursory vomit noises. I glance in my rearview mirror in time to find my daughter hurling the contents of (what must be) at least a weeks worth of food in water-hose fashion. Swinging the car over to the shoulder of a very narrow street (your 2002 also has very good brakes BTW), I throw open the drivers side back door (those double open van sides really are the best thing since Nutella) to make sure my daughter is okay.

At this point I’m in a bit of a quandary. Not expecting to be gone long (the ball field is 2 minutes from the house) I don’t have the diaper bag. Also, not expecting to be dealing in bodily fluids, I left my latex-free gloves in the garage. My poor daughter is saucer-eyed and freaked out and now covered in orange chunky remains from neck to knee. What’s a mom to do? I double-hand scooped out the chunks onto the street, grabbed the dirty-van drying towel, stripped her down to the diaper, moved her over to the other built-in 5-point harness seat, and continued to drop my son off at baseball practice. Thankfully, I did have one container of wet wipes, which I used to excavate her from the 5-point harness.

For brevity, I’ll skip the part where I had to leave my son unattended at the ball park while I drove my WT diaper-vomit daughter home 15 minutes before my book club was due to arrive at my house for a fun filled evening of literary chatter, or how since I was so pressed for time I left the van in the garage with the vomit, the dirty towel, the messy clothes, and all the puky wet wipes overnight.

The next morning (after a very successful book club I might add) I faced the music and headed to the van armed with a bucket, rags, cleaners, air fresheners, and the vacuum. Up until this point, like I have mentioned, I really have been a fan of those 5-point harness seats. But I apparently I didn’t get issued the tools necessary to effectively clean those seats when I purchased my vehicle. Maybe it was an oversight on the dealerships part, way back in 2002, but it took 4 hours, a screwdriver and a fair amount of swearing to get that seat apart. I would have been happy to just wipe it real good like, but vomit by nature is runny and it crept its way down the seat belt hole. Yes, down past the removable washer part, past the easy-to-wipe pleather part, way down into that deep black abyss at the bottom of the buckle. That place where the extra change lives, and the hair barrettes, Polly Pocket shoes and crumbs of a thousands colors. As I removed each layer of that seat I discovered a new layer of puke. It even had breeched the seat foam. I did the best I could with the part of the seat I could remove. Yes, I had to tear the upholstery slightly. Yes, you can see a bit of the foam. But what about the rest of the van seat? The part that isn’t removable? I did the best I could with the wipe-and-dab method, and while I may have gotten the chunks, the vomit juice is still alive and well down there.

Even after the thorough detailing, the van still smells like acrid orange juice. There are so many dryer sheets stashed and hanging in my van we could ward off lightning. I now own stock in Febreeze. My son has stopped having nightmares about the orange lava bubbling up from his sister’s stomach, but the van still smells like puke.

Which brings me to the crux of my letter: Why hasn’t someone at the top of that design ladder installed removable seat covers yet? Seats where you can zip off the covers, throw them in the wash and reinstall? If it’s a matter of finding a really long zipper, I’m sure any tent manufacturer would lend you one for a prototype. What’s a couple zippers cost anyway? I’m happy to pay an extra 20 bucks or so, if it means that I can un-zip my seats and wash them. If you think it might be too expensive to manufacture seats like that, maybe you could save money in the plastic form department, and quit making those molded loose change dispensers in my front panel. They are a pain in the ass anyway, and everyone knows no one ever uses them. If you have time to sort and shove your change into the plastic “change holder” you must not have kids, because my change is used up in bubble gum machines, drive-throughs and in the recesses of the backseats that I can’t get to, and my time is spent cleaning up puke. Just make that plastic area plain and square, easy to wipe out and unbreakable. Marketing zipper seats won't be a problem either. I can even think of a great name for your new seats….be ready for it… “Zip-and-Go.” Creative isn’t it? I also think that name will work nicely with the other seat features of the 2008.

Well, Ms. Alaniz, I’ll wrap this letter up. If you ever need any more ideas on how to make Dodge’s minivans more kid-friendly, feel free to contact me. I have some thoughts about seat dividers (that pull down from the ceiling so kids can’t see or touch each other), and a sound-proof cage for the driver that you may be interested in.

Rachel Vidoni
Self-Appointed Honorary 5-Point Harness Cleaning and Installation Manager

Monday, June 30, 2008

My Great Ideas

You know the saying, “The road to Gehenna is a well-worn cobble-stoned pathway full of travelers who have great ideas.” Or something like that. My list of things I’d like to do, am going to do, and have to do are getting so long I figured I’d better start writing them down. I’m beginning to forget. Which of course is the crux of the problem, because if you have an intention to do something, and forget you need to do it, it never gets done and remains just an intention, and you end up walking down that path I mentioned a moment ago.

So here is a small sampling of things I have been intending to do, and why to this date I have yet to do them. We’ll start small.

Drink more water.
It’s a no brainer really. We all know that one needs to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water daily to remain hydrated and healthy. But honestly I find drinking water a pain in the ass. Mainly because water seems to go right through me and I end up needing to use the restroom every 20 minutes. Other liquids do not do this. My usual beverage intake in a day is: 2-3 cups coffee in the morning. I do add cream to my coffee, so that counts as my dairy requirement. For lunch, an iced tea or Coke. To be fair I add ice, which counts as part of my water requirement. For dinner I usually down a beer or glass of wine or two (especially seeing as how it’s summer and my children are home which makes me need a drink even more). I will admit I have a glass of water by the nightstand in case I wake up with cotton-mouth at 3 a.m. Coffee, tea, soda, beer, wine. Wasn’t there an article published out there awhile back that said your body is able to absorb the water in other beverages, such as iced tea? That once upon a time they thought that caffeinated drinks didn’t count, but now they do? I’m sure I remember reading that somewhere. Water is so bland. It’s just water. It’s not fizzy, doesn’t help keep me awake, doesn’t help me tolerate my fighting children and only makes me urinate. I have other things I need to get done in a day besides hang out in the bathroom.

That said, I’ve been complaining about headaches lately. I’ve had one for weeks now that never fully goes away, so either I have a brain tumor and need an MRI, or my body is dehydrated. My husband suggested I fill a big water bottle and just drink out of that all day so I know how much I’ve had. It’s a great idea. I’ll never do it because I’ll feel overwhelmed at how much water I need to drink and how often I’ll be on the pot so I’ll fill the bottle and let it sit on the counter. I’ll use it for plants at the end of the day. I know me. I get that I need to start drinking more water and I can hear my mother’s voice, my doctor’s voice, (even your voice) in my head chastising me for my beverage choices. Which is why, drink more water, is on my list. I’ll do it. Right after I finish this cup of coffee.

Go to the Dentist.
I do not have a problem with the dentist. What I have a problem with is making an appointment for the dentist. This includes making appointments for my children and husband to visit the dentist as well. It’s been probably 5 years since my husband or I have seen a dentist, and 3 years since my children have seen one. Pick your mouth off the floor. We’re all fine. Apparently I missed the chapter in the “How to be a Fabulous Parent” book that says you need to visit the dentist at least bi-annually. I figured that if there was a problem with our teeth one of two things would happen:
1) that I would notice the black/brown rotting teeth in my (or my children’s) mouth or
2) that I (or my children) would be so consumed with pain upon chewing that it would be fairly obvious we needed to see a dental specialist.

These things have not happened. I look in the kids’ mouth regularly, if not to check for fecal matter, then to look at their teeth for black spots. My children brush with occasional regularity, like when their teeth turn orange from all the crap accumulating on them. Yes I tell them to brush every night. No, they don’t do it. My husband has not complained about painful teeth either. Mine are fine. I have yet to have a cavity, not even one. I don’t say this to brag, it’s just the way it’s been. You’ll be proud to know that on this front I am making headway. I have actually called the dentist and my entire family has a scheduled cleaning and checkup. I can hear the dentist now.
“How long since your last appointment?”
“5 years.”
“How often do you floss?”
“Every night after I eat steak and corn.”
“You know these aren’t really teeth at all, don’t you? They’re really just stumps of tartar that look like teeth. And by the way, your gums are receding and you have bone loss. You’ll need a full set of top and bottom falsies. We’re running a special, only 50% of your 401K. Don’t worry. You can set up an automatic withdrawal when you leave.”

The dentist will look into my children’s mouth. He’ll make a note in his folder to call CPS when I leave. She’ll shake her head and ask how often I floss the kids’ teeth. What?

(Anecdote Alert: I remember when I first joined my book club, and all the mom’s were talking about their kids and dental care. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me, so I was joking about how often mine don’t brush. “And can you believe that the dentist actually asked me if I floss my kids teeth?” I joked incredibly. “I mean, my kids barely brush, let alone let me floss their teeth. C’mon! Who actually flosses their kids’ teeth?” I was laughing, trying to make a good impression. Well, turns out that quite a few of those women do floss their kids’ teeth. And they said so, there in those few seconds of nervous silence. And the score officially was, Book Club Moms 1. Newcomer 0. Damn.)

Be More Organized About Summer Schedules.
This summer I swore I would try to be proactive about the amount of tv watching, video game playing and complaining that my children inevitably do the second school is over. My great idea? Type a list of things to complete before 10 a.m./or going to play with fiends, whichever comes first. This list will be laminated and hang on the door of each child’s room with a dry erase marker. They’ll use this marker to cross out the things they have completed, which will be easy for me to check and follow through with. The list of things include:

  • Read for 20 minutes. Video game instructions do not count. Nor do words on the commercials on tv.
  • Complete three pages in the summer workbooks I bought so their brains don’t turn to mush.
  • Complete chores. This includes organizing their bedrooms, a quick wipe down of bathrooms, and each child gets to pick up a living area.
  • Spend 20 minutes practicing their keyboarding skills. I bought a computer program to have them learn to type. You laugh, but do you want to spend time typing their reports as they progress in school? It’s either that or listen to them whine incessantly about how long it takes to write their name and date at the top of a document as they hunt and peck with their extended index finger. It’s brutal. My kids are going to learn how to type. (Although, it turns out the program I bought sucks, even I hated using it which is why it was probably on sale…)
  • Eat breakfast. Yes I have to put this on the list or it’s 11:00 and they want popsicles and cookies. Since I can’t remember my own name most days I let them eat it because I assumed they had a healthful breakfast…
  • Spend 20 minutes researching a topic of their choice on the new kid’s browser Kidzui. They’ll need to find 2-3 facts about said topic and write them down (in cursive for my older child) in a notebook which will be labeled, “Summer Research.”

These lists will keep them organized, my house clean, their brains fresh, and maybe they’ll get scholarships to college with all the useless factoids they’ll learn from the internet. They will know what to expect each day, which will eliminate the 7:30 a.m. complaining and yelling about the tv. My house will run like my classroom did, way back when I had a professional job and actually got paid to organize ideas like this. My house will be efficient and I’m going to do it. As soon as I have a day to type out the individualized lists, take them to Staples to laminate them, buy a new package of dry erase markers and sit down with them to explain our new family SOP’s. I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind you that I came up with this idea last year. I’ve had time to work out the kinks.

The list is much longer than this, but it’s 11:14 a.m. and I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. I’ve had 3 cups of coffee though, so I should go down a glass of water. I think the kids had a yogurt for breakfast, so it’s unlikely I’ll find any leftovers to nosh on while I do the dishes. I’ll have to actually make a meal for myself, and you know how much I love getting the kitchen more messy. Sigh. Maybe I’ll throw the kids in the car and head to Staples. But I’ll need to type the lists for the kids before I head there…Since I’m already on the computer I might as well… but I’m hungry and the baby is going to wake up soon…where are my other two kids…

Monday, June 16, 2008

Potty Mouth

10 minutes before we needed to leave for the bus this morning, my son shouts, “Mom! The baby’s mouth smells like poop!”

I deep sigh. Even given the fact that my son tends to be somewhat of an attention seeking-hog, this announcement is not good news.

I wander into my son’s room , who is still yelling “Gross! Nasty! She ate poop! Oh man that’s disgusting!” and try to figure out what is going on. Sure enough, there is a teeny tiny turd on the carpet at her feet, and after doing a quick sniff… yep her breath smells like doodie.

“Where did she get a turd?” I yell. I look at my other two children. Their saucer eyes light up with that it wasn’t me look. But since the cat kicked it last December, I have no one to blame but the five people living in this house. Apparently random turdletts fall from our shorts without us noticing. And leave it to my baby daughter to find the smallest, tiniest bit of excrement possible and then enjoy it like a tootsie roll pop.

My third child is unlike the other two in a few ways. Mainly, the amount of things she can find to stuff into her orifice knows no bounds. She can and will put anything—I mean anything—into her mouth and chew, suck and try to swallow it. In fact I am wondering if she was born without taste buds, because I have found nothing that makes her turn up her nose, nothing she shudders and spits out, nothing she licks and leaves. My other two children were never ones to put much in their mouth, preferring to play with odd objects, or squish things. Even when my son found some aspirin on the floor, he took one lick, gagged and spit it out. Such a good boy.

So the fact that my youngest can digest handfuls of soil, small rocks, pennies, nickels, lint balls, leaves and flowers off house plants, soap bars, anything within reach inside a trash can, leaf mulch, tree pollen and now feces, with the same excitement and enthusiasm that she shovels down her cheese cubes and green peas, absolutely baffles me. I have pulled all these objects out of her mouth, which she vehemently refuses to give me, as if I am trying to swab the gruel out of a third-world-child’s cheeks.

My daughter also starts every meal by throwing a handful of food onto the floor. It’s not a sign that she’s finished or full, and after the first handful or so, she happily consumes what’s on her tray. But the introduction of a new food on the tray initiates the toss-over as well, and by the time she’s completed her eating escapade, the floor has more food on it than what found its way into her belly. This confused me at first, until, after taking her down from her snack chair and proceeding to the sink for a wet rag to clean the floor, I arrive back at the table to find my daughter hoovering up the remains of lunch as fast as she can grip the slimy bananas and old toast bits that she refused to eat any more of a moment earlier. In fact, I have come to discover that my daughter actually prefers to eat off the floor and under the table. There is not a crumb infested cranny, nor a nasty nook in my kitchen that is safe from the diet desires of my daughter. The older and crunchier the remains are, the better she likes it. Apparently throwing food from her tray is her small way of self-preservation. In the event that I stop providing meals for her, at least she’s covered.

My daughter can sniff out actual consumable food like an emaciated rat and has pin-point radar for ground debris. I should know not to leave her alone in a room, unless its padded and she's in a straight jacket. Why was I surprised that poop finally made the list?

I grab my daughter and proceed to try and wipey out her mouth. I consider giving her a shot of grain alcohol, or squirting some anti-bacterial gel into her mouth to at least kill the germs and rid the brown tongue, but I'm out of both. Since she can’t swish-and-spit, Listerine and soapy water won’t work. Tilex and Lysol Foaming Bath cleaner just seem wrong (but I am dealing with poop here), and while using those would probably secure them a book deal later in life and kill the germs, I’d probably be in jail which would leave my husband to raise three kids by himself, and well, he can’t braid hair. So, I’m just left with a little innocent wipey which isn’t doing much to alleviate the brown tongue. I have to sit in the bathroom and silently gag to myself knowing that poop germs are swimming in her system. At this point I should have just let her down and encouraged her to suck on the toilet, because as gross as that is, there is less poop on my commode than my carpets apparently. Who knew.

I call a couple neighbors and friends to ask if their children have ever eaten poop and what they did about it. Nope. Nothing. No one else’s child has ever eaten poop. Only mine. Mine mine mine.

I call the pediatrician, and ask to speak with a nurse. I’m not paying a $30 co-pay if I can get this info on the phone.
“All the nurses are busy, I’ll take a message and have them call you back. What seems to be the problem?” the receptionist asks.
“Well,” I explain, “My daughter ate a little turd this morning, and I’m just wondering if there’s anything I need to do.”
“Was it animal or human?”
I suppose this makes a difference, but at the moment poop is poop.
“Human.” (Of course no one has come forward to own this piece of crap, so I am assuming it’s human, and didn’t wander in on someone shoes, or, or…hang on I’m feeling dizzy.

The nurse calls me back an hour or so later. The baby’s poop breath is gone by this time.
“Mrs. Vidoni? I talked with the doctor, and he said there is nothing to worry about, your daughter will be fine. There’s nothing you can do about it anyway.”
“She can’t get ecoli, or anything?” I ask.
“No,” she quietly chuckles. “She’ll be fine.”
And that was it. Quick, to the point, and I saved 30 bucks.

It amazes me that a person can eat a piece of relatively fresh human fecal matter and have no ramifications from that, but I can’t buy a bag of spinach or fresh tomatoes from the grocery store without getting fifty diseases. How exactly does that work?

It’s been my prayer for some time now, that God might help me deal with my OCD issues. Leave it to His big sense of humor to give an extremely germ-a-phobic-especially-gross-things-from-floors-and-bathrooms-mom a third child who has a penchant for all things disgusting, grimy and previously-left-by-others. Who not only plays with these objects, but eats them. If my daughter’s behavior was supposed to be a way to try and help curb my worrying or lessen my anxieties, it isn’t working. Right after I got off the phone with the pediatrician, I called my doctor. I need to start taking Prozac again.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Your daughter or mine?

I’m heating meatballs in the oven, going for a makeshift dinner of sorts, my husband and son are at baseball, the baby is temporarily sleeping and my 7 year-old daughter hits me with:

“Mom, do you think I’m Goth?”

Another dinner-time-universally-important question and my husband is not in the room. Dammit.

Many years of counseling and teacher-training come back to me as I quickly self-talk myself into remaining calm and showing no strong emotion that she could possibly attach to the word “Goth” as positive or negative, therefore eliminating any chance of her trying to use my emotional response to this word against me in a few years. It was difficult.

“What do you mean by ‘Goth’?” I ask noncommittally.
“It’s where a person dresses all in black and stuff,” she replies. “I like to wear all black.”
“Who told you about this?”
“My friend in school. She said I’m like so Goth because I like to wear black.”

Now I know this friend she mentions and I really like her. She came to my daughter’s birthday party this year and she is a nice girl. As far as I know she is the oldest kid (maybe an only child) and although she is extremely precocious, I’m curious where she learned about what Goth means. I’ve seen both her parents. They are Asian and don’t have a penchant for black.

I know it’s a simple harmless question. I get that she has no real understanding of what Goth means in all its stereotypic labels, mannerisms and attitudes. She might just as well have said, “Mom, do you think I’m a hooker?” or perhaps “Do you think I’m a stoner?” and she would probably know as much about these two things as she knows about being Goth. That one is a fisherwoman and the other a person who throws rocks.

But the Goth question stops my heart a bit. I spent three years teaching Junior High English and I can tell you, it scared the hell out of me. Not that the students were threatening. Not that I couldn’t control them in my class. But the thought that someday my kids would be sitting in rooms similar to these, surrounded by yahoos similar to the ones I taught, scared me to the very marrow of my existence. And that’s not even taking into account what kids will be like in 6-8 years. Hang on while I swill my wine…

The ironic thing about all this is that my husband and I have joked about this very thing.
“Why is she wearing all black today?” my husband asked at one point.
“I don’t know. She often wears all one color. Some days it just happens to be black,” I reply. Then my daughter tramps through the room exclaiming, “I just love black! I love to wear black. It’s my favorite color.”
My husband and I eye each other. We gulp. We act nonplussed. As she walks away my husband says to me, “Do you think she’s Goth?”
“Not if I can help it,” I retort.

I’m one of those people who hope to instill in my children the knowledge that you can’t judge a book by its cover. That you don’t label and discriminate based on the superficiality of looks. I know. I was one of those teens who prided herself on looking different (not Goth however) and never, never, never desired to fit the mold. (Damn the rogue genes.) But it’s a different matter when your little 7 year old daughter is using the word Goth and all you can envision is body piercings, hair dye and spiked dog collars. Suddenly your chubby handed little girl who loves to play homeless and run in the dirt barefoot, is a teen slamming doors and stealing your black eye liner.

I finally gather myself and say (again without emotion) “No, I don’t think you’re Goth. Being Goth is more than just wearing black. It’s more about how they act and the things they believe in and the negative things they do in their spare time.” Yes I know, I stacked the deck. I stereotyped. I’m sure there are probably many many Goth teens out there who volunteer at the local animal shelter, donate their time to Big Brothers Big Sisters and who attend daily Mass. (I have never seen any of them, but I’m sure they are out there.)

“Oh, you mean like ding-dong-ditch?” she asked me.

Ding-Dong-Ditch? I think. Is that as bad as it gets in her imagination? Maybe I don’t have anything to worry about after all…

“Yes, exactly,” I say.