Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving of Epic Portions 2009

Our family made the seven-state trek to Wheeling, WV again this year to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. What started a few years ago as a “special” trip out to WV for the November holiday has now turned into a “family tradition” that my children and my in-laws both eagerly anticipate (don't get me wrong, I do to-sorta). Weeks before the trip the kids start running around the house planning the games, headphones, food items, blankets and pillows they will shove into the backseats, making the mini van look like an episode of Hoarders. I, on the other hand, spend those weeks calling our friends to borrow the roof-top luggage carrier (that I should name for how much time it has spent with my family) and trying to mentally organize the van so I’m not up to my pits in crap before we leave our street. My husband actually asked if we really needed the luggage rack. I just laughed.


I didn’t time our departure very well, and heads up: 2:30 p.m. is not a good time to leave Massachusetts heading south on the 95, given that it puts you at about New York right around the time people are flying out of the city like The Birds revisited. Half-way through Connecticut brake lights glowed like a river of lava, and you know how well four-ton minivans with luggage carriers and three young passengers do while bobbing along in lava. We decided to follow the GPS and GET OFF THE HIGHWAY, which, heads up again: is NEVER a good idea. The traffic you know is always better than the traffic you don’t know. Needless to say, three-hours later we broke free of the auto-chains keeping us back and actually made it into New Jersey.


Now I’d like to give a shout out here to my three children, who, despite the traffic and the length of the trip thus far, were absolutely perfect angels. No one cried, pouted, whined, peed their pants, threw-up, or got a fever. I’m sure some of their good-naturedness had to do with the fact that their eyes were glued to some type of hand-held gaming screen or video playing device, and their mother who usually polices their time on such drivel was actually throwing movies at them card-dealer style and suggesting they play a few more games, even if their thumb joints were tired. If I have ever said a nasty word about video games (I haven’t, have I?) or our societies dependence on the damned television set, I would hear-by like to publicly eat my words and thank those designers and engineers who probably failed English, but dammit, save the lives and restore peace to traveling families worldwide. Even my youngest sat in her car seat, her face reflecting the glow of Elmo banging away on his dollar store piano for at least 70 blissful minutes.

My children were so fabulous they didn’t even complain about not getting to eat dinner until 9 p.m.. Sitting in traffic threw off the eating schedule, and in addition to feeding their brains with mind-numbing entertainment, I was also throwing back the only food I had brought with me: candy, fruit snacks, Gatorade, and stale Halloween pretzel packs. In fact, now that I’m typing this, I’m starting to see why the kids love the road trip so much….But anyway, by 9 p.m. I was feeling guilty for not providing some type of official dinner, as I’m pretty sure that’s in my parental job description somewhere—dinner before bed—so we pulled into the first place we could find. I couldn’t even tell you what town we were in, but we managed to locate a Quizno’s where I ordered food for me and my husband, while he took them to a McDonalds that was located inside a Walmart. Since I had met them at Walmart after I got our sandwiches and Mickie D’s was about to close (it being 9:00 p.m. and all) we decided to picnic in the parking lot. Now if I was a town resident and I happened upon a family sitting in a mini van with the back up in a dark parking lot of Walmart, whose kids were sitting on top blankets eating dry beef-product patties on a bun with 1.5 pickle slices, while their parents wolfed down sodas and hoagies simultaneously trying to keep the pillows and crap from falling out of the vehicle onto no doubt dirty, filthy, pavement crawling with germs, I would probably have called the police to tell them a transient family may need some assistance, or asked them if they needed $50 bucks and a place to stay the night. Fortunately, we managed to finish our quality eats, change the kids into pajamas, clean out the accumulated trash, and reorganize the pillows and blankets before Social Services stopped by to questions us. Unfortunately, no one offered us $50 bucks. Which I would have greatfully taken, as it’s rude to reject people trying to minister to others. I’m sure we looked like we needed some ministering.


The rest of the trip was uneventful, and our vacation—and the food prep—was in full swing bright and early later that morning (we got in at 3 a.m.). I will admit that when we started going to Nana and Papa’s for Thanksgiving it was difficult for me to leave behind the Thanksgiving traditions of my youth: the food dishes that were served only during the holiday meals, the sense of prepping, decorating, and setting a pretty table. After all, an Italian themed Thanksgiving is not what I was used to, and seeing spaghetti sauce on the table made the holiday seem, well, like a school night.


But as the years have progressed and I’ve grown in maturity and understanding, (how big of me to admit) I’ve let go of my assumptions about the Thanksgiving menu. What food items show up on the buffet table are the items I will eat, and if I really need to have a particular dish I can make it when I get home. As for the kids, I’m not sure you could please my children more than by offering gnocchi and sauce with every meal, that is unless you let them watch tv, play video games and gorge themselves on sugar for 10 hours. But the holiday menu is, well, rather loosey-goosey, and Papa and my brother and sister-in-law all love to cook and prepare food. When you get that many great chefs in the kitchen, it’s best to just go with it and make what you are told, or offer to perform the mundane tasks such as prepping or peeling or dicing. In fact, now that I think about it, Thanksgiving at the in-laws is all about cooking and preparing the food--creating fabulous dishes and offering a variety of personal favorites for each guest. Whether or not those dishes actually all go together or ever showed up on the Thanksgiving plates of the first New Englanders is of no concern. It’s also been my experience that Italians are a meat-loving bunch; the more meat you can serve and put into other dishes the better. Like I said, I’ve come to embrace the carnivoristic tendancies, even if it means I may need a stool softener later.


Turkey did make the cut this year, all 22 pounds of it. Yes, a 22 lb turkey. From what I’ve read, you should figure on 1 lb of turkey per person (which I think is a bit ridiculous because when is the last time you sat down to eat a full pound of anything, unless it’s a slice of fruit cake from your old Aunt Pat?) which would have meant a 10-12 pound turkey would have done the trick, but this Thanksgiving I suppose that each of were entitled to almost three pounds each. Ingest that much turkey and you may as well sprout feathers and a wattle. Or a waddle. Either one. And where’s room for the Thanksgiving meatballs?


The night before Thanksgiving, it seemed as if all the adults had been cooking for two solid days (in fact my middle daughter complained, “Mah-muumm, we haven’t even seen you since we’ve been here. You’ve been in the basement kitchen the whole time and haven’t even come upstairs.” Yes, I know. There is another pretty complete kitchen in the basement which is another blog entirely) and we were still saying things like, “Have you started the gnocchi yet?” “When are we going to put on the roast?” “How long does the bread take to make?”


“Do we even know what we’re serving?” Someone asked.


“Why don’t you write down what we have,” Someone else suggested.


So my brother-in-law started writing. Here’s the menu we ended up with:


Thanksgiving 2009

  • Roasted (22 lb.) Turkey
  • Pork Loin
  • Meatballs
  • Sausage Stuffing
  • No Knead Wheat Bread
  • Gnocchi & Sauce
  • Cranberry Chutney
  • Roasted Cauliflower Casserole
  • Brussel Sprouts Piri Piri
  • Green Chile Corn
  • Green Salad with Pears
  • Parmesan & Garlic Brussel Sprouts
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Antipasta Platter
  • Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Pumpkin Pecan Pie
  • Pineapple Upsidedown Cake
  • Pumpkin Roll
  • Jenis Ice Cream
  • Cinnamon Coffee Cake
  • Fruit Cake

Now, at this point I’d love to tell you that the family gathering numbered more than 45, or that we cooked 15 dishes and provided 7 different desserts for the hungry college students from Franciscan University 25 miles away who were unable to go home for the holiday. But we didn’t. There were eight adults and three kids. Just us. We ate. And ate. I stood up, unbuttoned my pants and had a second plate of food. And after dinner there were so many leftovers we could have bathed in the remnants and still had enough for dinner the following day. But like any good, quality family gathering, it doesn’t have to make sense. The menu, the food items. The fact that we filled every plastic baggie, bin, and resealable container with food and were storing them on the back porch outside and under the front of the house because the two household refrigerators were already full, just goes to show you what a food-loving bunch we all are. Did we have the leftovers for breakfast? Well, some deviled eggs, but Papa made pancakes. Did we eat the leftovers for lunch? No, the ladies and children ate at Costco and the gentlemen ate fried fish at the American Legion. Did we have leftovers for dinner? Yes, we did pull them out for dinner. But guess what the kids ate? You got it. Gnocchi and sauce, leaving us with approximately 15 pounds of cold turkey.


But with any family gathering, the good times must come to an end, the love and stress of the holidays bottled and saved for next year. We packed up all the gear we brought, then packed up all gear we purchased, then packed up all the gear Papa gave us, and with the luggage rack near bursting, the kids knees at their chins for the 50 pound car jack, gently-used V-Tech phones, orange flashing dome light with car lighter adapter for emergencies, BB gun for my son (what 10 year old doesn’t need a BB gun?) and other accoutrements at their feet, we set off for the 10 hour trek back home. Did I do any complaining about the amount of items we brought back with us? Not much. Because one of the things we left with was a brand spankin’ new Cuisinart food processor my father-in-law happened to have on the shelf down in the basement kitchen. Not even being used. Just gathering flour dust. And funny enough, a Cuisinart food processor was just what I wanted for Christmas.


I’d love to continue this blog with a hellacious story about the ride home, but was surprisingly peaceful. The kids’ eyes bulged at the screens. We listened to our ipods. We even stopped for dinner at a REAL restaurant and even ate inside at a table. Dinner was good. Traffic? Non-existent all the way home. Weather? Crystal clear and starry. We pulled in around 1:00 a.m. and everyone went to bed without a fuss. Perhaps this ride home is my reward for all the other years of hellish driving conditions and screaming children. That, or maybe I was mesmerized by the thought of the 22 lb turkey and my new Cuisinart.






Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mother of Reinvention

I know I know. I’ve neglected you lately. Yes, for months, I know. I get it. You’re angry. If it makes you feel any better I’ve been neglecting myself as well, letting myself go, so to speak. I’ve been really really busy trying to find a job you see. What I’d prefer to find is someone to just give me sums of money every few weeks for no reason at all, but that hasn’t happened yet. Figured getting a job would be easier. Well, needless to say, both options are equally viable at this point. Apparently no one wants to pay me for actual work either.

But I digress. I’m in the middle of my annual re-invention phase, a not so pleasant phase to witness. That moment when you feel like your life, your home, your looks, are a stagnant, lifeless pool of fetid water. My home feels disastrous, my hair style dated and unflattering, my clothing a walking advertisement for Salvation Army. I’ve mentioned this phase I’m in to a few friends and my sister, who all retort with something along the lines of, “Puh-leease. You don’t ever look frumpy. Your hair looks amazing! You’re so thin. What do you have to complain about?” To which I want to retort, “Put a sock in it.” I am not trying to collect compliments door-to-door with my self-esteem bucket held high. I’m not even looking for my friends to agree with me. What I’m looking for is to hear someone say, “I sooo know what you mean. I’ve felt like an ugly, outdated bitch before too.”


My husband really hates this phase. I announced to him the other morning while reading the paper, “Just so you know, I’ve had it with my hair.”

“You going to cut it?” he asked.

“I’m going to do something,” I replied. “Oh, and I was thinking about giving away the dining table and moving in the plastic table from the back porch…”

“Why don’t you just go buy a convertible?” he asked.

“If I thought that would do it, I probably would.”


In times like these the poor man doesn’t know what he’s going to come home to. Honestly, I’m never quite sure what I’m going to do next either. The living room might be pink. The furniture could be reorganized. I may have renamed one of the children, or perhaps chosen another tattoo or gotten a body part pierced. I’m needing something drastic, some way to redefine how I look and feel, to regain the joie de vivre that seems to have evaporated. Like someone sucked all the color out of my life and left me with shades of grey. I’m living in Un-Pleasantville.


Deciding that changing myself would be easier (and let’s face it, a little cheaper) in the run, than say, remodeling the house, or the long paper-work hassle of a name change, I went browsing through some stores the other day looking for a new outfit. Buying new clothing for myself is such a rare occurrence.


I have a few gift cards burning a hole in my purse, and I really was hoping to find something,….well, that didn’t belong to my mother. I typically shop once a year through my mother and sister’s cast-off bags, the last stop they make before being donated to those more needy than myself. In fact, the last time I went through my sister’s Good Will bags, (who gave away more clothes than I actually own) I had a nice tidy pile of sweaters and shirts, sprinkled with a couple pairs of pants. I was feeling pretty good about myself since my middle sister is younger, trendier, and thinner than I, and actually employed with a fab job—and maybe, just maybe, wearing her old clothes, would give me some type of cool mojo I lack. As she was loading her pilfered donations back into her car, she glanced at my piles. “Just so you know, everything you picked out of my pile was originally from mom.”


Fan-tastic.

So now I’m wearing cast-off-cast-offs.


But I digress again. My apologies. The first store I hit on my cotton-convertible shopping trip was Chicos. I never heard much about Chicos when I lived in the west, but out here on the East Coast Chicos is HOT. How many racks of clothing a store has, is usually a good indicator to the type and price of clothing (think many racks=Target, vs. fewer racks=Burberry). The second I walked in, I was pretty sure that Chicos wasn’t going to be my thing. Don’t get me wrong, the clothes were beautiful. Vibrant shades of purple, silver metallic dress shirts, pants with an actual crease down the front, and necklaces that would weigh down Cleopatra herself, adorned the mannequins. Clearly, these outfits would be perfect for the employed version of myself, something I could wear to a board meeting, or an editorial department meeting, or even a faculty meeting, if I had any of those jobs. I didn’t see anything that made the statement “freelance-writer-desperate-for-work-and-a-break-from-two-year-old-screaming”. I took long strides in, around the display, and out the shop door. On to store #2.


Coldwater Creek. I have to say, if there is any version of how I’d like to see myself, it’s in a Coldwater Creek catalog. I do like their clothes; colorful jackets, beautiful long skirts that hide un-shaven legs. Clothing fitted to accentuate a waist I still have (thankfully) but not so tight they give me gas. Their style leans towards a Southwest flair-something I’d normally avoid-but it’s not turquoise-and-kokopeli-obnoxious. In my Coldwater Creek version of myself, I live on a sprawling mountain ranch in Montana somewhere, and watch my horses roam in the vast empty acres of my homestead, while drinking hot coffee from a wooden rocker on my rustic front porch. I’m dressed like the woman in the picture, and what I do before or after my coffee on the porch is of no concern because Coldwater Creek is all about living in the moment. What I don’t like about Coldwater Creek are the prices, because this starving writer can’t bring herself to pay $90.00 for a jacket she drinks coffee in. As I breeze through Coldwater Creek, I realize I just don’t see anything on a mannequin that says, “shleping-two-kids-to-the-bus-stop-in-the-pouring-rain,” so I leave. Store #3.


American Eagle Outfitters. Quit laughing. I know I don’t fit the target market for AEO, which is pre-pubescent to college binge drinkers, but perhaps I’ll find some kind of basic t-shirt I can layer with my marmy sweaters in extra-extra-large, because the base size for this store is 0. Quick glance at mannequins: transparent gold sequined tank with frayed seams layered under an AEO jersey-knit hoody with fur trimmed collar. Uh, I don’t think so. Somehow I can’t picture myself doing dishes in this outfit, and sequined anything kills the skin under your arms. Trust me. Next mannequin? V-neck lace cami layered under black tuxedo vest, paired with skinny-crack-showing-acid-washed jeans. Seriously, I’d need to drag my child-bearing hips in a wagon behind me, ‘cause there ain’t no room for them in those pants. Not only do I leave the store—quickly, lest I be mistaken for a mom shopping for a teenager I don’t have—I vow not to ever let my children shop there either. Tank tops in Massachusetts? It’s winter for crying-out-loud.


Store #4. Ann Taylor Loft. I love Ann Taylor Loft. I love the tailored clothing, the sophisticated style, the amazing a-line swing sweaters with a single button front. I adore the way they pair ripped jeans with a button-down and scarf, and you could show up for dinner at the Phoenician. I love the way I feel important when I walk into an Ann Taylor store. My possibilities are endless. If I wore clothes like this everyday, I could do anything. Start my own company. Do book tours. Rule the world. In my head I’m capable of all these things, but my clothes are holding me back. Ann Taylor Loft is like dream-crack; a whiff of new-clothes air, a brushing of the soft fabrics beneath my fingers and I’m suddenly trying to rationalize feeding my family potatoes and rice for the next two months so I can buy one complete outfit. No Christmas for you this year, kids. Doesn’t mommy look TERRIFIC? But that’s not my reality. A glance in the mirror keeps me real. I’m wearing eight-year-old faded jeans coupled with a yellow zip sweater (from my mother) that hits directly at my waist (sooo passé), my hair is slicked back into a ponytail, faded leather mules (from my mother) and socks that don’t match. Yes they show. Sigh. I stand up taller trying to pull off the I-really-wear-Ann-Taylor-clothes-most-days-today-I’m-just-slumming-it, and slink out of the store, too rich to purchase anything today. As if.


That was seriously not a good shopping day. Those happen. It’s like shopping for jeans, bras, or swimsuits. You either come away with everything, or want to sign up for an extreme makeover, body edition.


Decidedly, I am cotton. I am stretchy fabrics that don’t pinch my crotch. I am cozy, warm sweaters, thick socks, and old jeans. I am Target, TJ Maxx, and Department-Store-Sale. As I type this I am wearing post-pregnancy pants two sizes too big, a faded navy blue maternity shirt (one of the few I kept because it’s comfy) and a button front navy blue cardigan that used to belong to my mother, to be followed up with pilling navy blue socks, and yes, navy blue slippers that also once belonged to the woman who gave me life. The rain apparently influenced my clothing decisions today. Deep sigh. I am drinking coffee, but not on a rustic front porch over-looking a meadowland vista, but toys and papers and office mess strewn about, like the settled remnants after a tornado. I’m writing, of course, but it’s not like this blog is paying me.


Well, revamping myself via the clothing route isn’t going to happen. No worries. Today I have a haircut appointment at 1:00. Maybe I’ll go pink. Or Sinead. A bob? Layered locks with bangs? There are so many possibilities that say “yearly-identity-crisis-for-underemployed-overeducated-stay-at-home-mom-of-three.” I’ll let you know how it goes.










Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Fun-Sucker: Yes, It's a Blog From Ted

“Don’t worry about a deadline. I just want you to have fun with it.” That was Rachel’s response to my query of exactly when she wanted my last blog entry. “Just have fun with it.”

Oh, Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. If only it were that easy. If only anything for me were that easy. Alas, nothing ever is, because I have the super-human-like ability to suck every last ounce of fun out of anything. I like to think of it as the mental equivalent of overcooking broccoli. What starts out as a delicious and dark green vegetable winds up a colorless, flavorless mound of something that my guinea pigs refuse to even nibble on. That is exactly what happens to “fun” once it meets my brain.

Let me clarify: it is not a matter of not being able to have fun. I can do that, especially when a couple of beers are thrown in. That is not my issue. Instead, my problem is that I am not “in the moment” for anything because I am constantly anticipating what is coming next. For example, while everybody else is enjoying the beauty of the beach on a sunny summer afternoon, I am anticipating how I am going to arrange the various beach items in the wagon to ensure the most efficient method of getting everything back to the car. On Christmas morning, when the kids are tearing off the wrapping from their presents, I basically have a game of Tetris playing in my head as I anticipate how to get all of that cardboard to fit into our one recycle bin that is allotted to us from our town.

Some (read: my wife) would call me an anal-retentive freak. Others may call me borderline-autistic, someone who could easily pull up a stool and join Rain Man in a hand at the blackjack tables. I, however, like to refer to myself as a “planner.” So, in my organized manner, let me go over the list of those for whom I plan:

  1. obviously, for myself
  2. for my kids, who are usually grateful that I have not forgotten any of the pivotal pieces of sporting equipment for their latest activity
  3. for my wife, who is not nearly as grateful and repeatedly questions in a highly-sarcastic manner how she ever did anything with me not telling her how to go about each and every detail. And…
  4. for fictional characters in movies

You were probably following me up until that last response. I am not one of those film geeks who is seeking out inconsistencies in plot or costume design. That is so not the case for me that I can’t even think of an example to include here (and I really don’t want to ever have to do a Google search for anything that starts with the phrase “Star Trek episodes.”) Also, I am not one of those movie-goers who is upset with the characters for making foolish decisions. On the contrary, I am usually thinking that if that woman is stupid enough to go into the basement when she knows that she is being chased by a homicidal maniac, then she fully deserves to be disemboweled.

Rather, I am the individual who happily pays a small fortune for admission and popcorn, and then sits in the darkened movie theatre unnecessarily obsessing over the logistics of each scene. For example, I can easily become fixated on any romantic scene in a movie that involves candles. The character in the movie is never using just one or two candles—to fully set the mood they have typically lit at least fifty candles. The sight of this overloads my brain with all of the practical elements that involve such an act. First of all, it takes a whole lot of time to light that many candles. Secondly, these are never candles that have been previously used, saving the individual from having to use a butter knife to dig out the remnants of the wick from the wax in order to light it again. No, these are pristine candles, which makes me question if the character has a closet full of dozens and dozens of new candles for this very purpose. These are inevitably not cheap candles from the Christmas Tree Shop. These appear to be high quality candles from the likes of Pottery Barn, where candles cost a minimum of $25 each. $25 per candle multiplied by 50 candles totals $1,250. That’s a good chunk of change I am sure could be spent on more practical matters. Wasn’t the person in an earlier scene complaining about their son having a rare bone disease and how they couldn’t afford the proper medical treatment? Hey, lady: Maybe your kid could get healthy if you stopped dropping a fortieth of your income on freakin’ candles! Come on, where are your priorities??? And speaking of practical matters, who really wants to spend their post-coital moments walking around the house extinguishing fifty candles? I don’t care how meticulous you are, with that many lit items in your home, you are bound to forget at least one. And then what? You are wakened in the middle of the night by the smoke detector, and trust me—that is never, ever romantic.

“But Ted, that’s not the point of the movie!”

I know! But I...just...can’t stop...myself...And again my brain is back on the candles. If the characters actually summon the energy to get up to blow out all of these candles, then I hope that they take an extra minute to make a trip to the bathroom before they return to bed. These characters just made mad, passionate love And look at what they are doing immediately following that act: choosing to fall asleep in one another’s arms. I have fathered four children and have thus been sexually active at least four times in my life. Since I can speak from that vast experience, I have learned that there is usually some clean-up involved after such acts. Yet these characters just lay there, taunting me in their refusal to even glance at the box of tissues clearly displayed right there on the nightstand. Hell, I would be happy if they just picked up the discarded tee shirt from the floor and used that to freshen up with. Please, I beg of you, do something, anything that will ultimately prevent you from waking up after a few hours of sleep and finding yourselves stuck to one another. And don’t even get me started on the female’s increased chances of developing a urinary tract infection if she chooses not to frequent the loo. (I sure hope that she likes cranberry juice, because obviously that is all she will be drinking for the next few days.)

I would love to tell you that I am exaggerating all of this for comedic effect. Sadly, it’s not the case. This unfortunately, is just the way my mind works and I need to accept it. I should get used to the fact that I will continue to almost always be on time for absolutely everything (and if I’m not, there is usually a damned good reason, i.e. alien abduction, anthrax attack, etc.). And I need to get accustomed to the fact that while everybody else is captivated by the interplay between Batman and The Joker, I will continue to be the lone individual obsessing over who is responsible for changing the oil in the Batmobile.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dear Jon Gosselin:

People Magazine March 23, 2009 Vol. 71 No. 11
Seriously. If you had ever hoped you could “get away with” the whole cheating-on-your-wife scandal by playing the poor-abused-husband card while continuing to deny you ever cheated on Kate while married, you pretty much screwed that up by taking your not-cheating-on-my-wife-female-“friend” to France on a vaca with you.
Though your celebrity is rather new, (I hate using the word “celebrity” as a verb, it really should solely be a noun) you sure did graduate with flying colors from the Dairy School of Cheating, whose free-range mantra is “How to have the cow, make the cheese, and sample milk from as many bovines as possible, all while claiming to be hormone and antibiotic free.” Unfortunately, you’re not in very good company, what with the likes of Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Senator Jon Ensign, and Governor Mark Sanford being alumni of the same college. Of course there are many more cohorts of the sort, but really, this is a blog and not a dissertation. In fact, have you every thought of running for office?

What is so very sad to me—and the millions of people who have become sucked into the Jon & Kate Plus 8 vortex—is how transparent your whole conundrum is. I’m lucky enough to be older than 32, and this looks to me like your run-of-the-mill mid-life crisis. Trust me on this: us women with children have an identity crisis almost hourly, which pretty much makes me an expert. Sub out the red hot convertible sports car for the big booming motorcycle (you have already clearly scored the much-younger-than-you-and-so-opposite-your-wife-girl), some late night partying, and trips to France, and there you go. The salve that will heal all your wounds from the life you didn’t plan on. While the grass does appear to be greener from a distance, I can assure you that up close, there are always brown dead patches, even on those manicured, pristine golf courses. Grass is grass after all.

Let me break it down for you and tell you how it ends:
  1. Passive guy marries strong willed woman. Knowingly.
  2. Couple gets pregnant with twins. Unforseen.
  3. Couple gets pregnant with sextuplets. Really really unforeseen.
  4. Guy gets bowled over by wife daily, but never says a word. Resentment builds. Knowingly.
  5. Guy feels trapped by eight children he loves but didn’t plan on, while continuing to be bowled over by wife. Daily.
  6. Guy explodes and refuses to “take it anymore.”
  7. Guy finds a girl nothing like his wife, who "likes him for who he really is." Claims he isn't cheating, they are of course, JUST FRIENDS.
  8. Guy divorces wife.
  9. Guy publicly announces relationship with party girl ten years his junior, who is openly considered a “wild child” and who has a drug arrest. She also likes his motorcycle. Bizarrely enough, she has NO children.
  10. Guy finds out that girlfriend is shallow and so is his life. Eventually.
  11. Guy breaks it off with girlfriend—or she leaves him—and guy is now alone, divorced and his grown children hate him for cheating on their mother.

I’m telling you, this isn’t one of those win-win-win situations you never read about but hope will happen to you. You want to be friends with Kate? Hardly. I must admit that at the beginning of your reality show, I tried to keep an open mind about the connection between you both. You two appeared to know where the other was coming from and seemed to be realistic about each other’s personalities.

As the seasons progressed, I have to say I started to venture over to your side. Kate did seem to be condescending and rude, making fun of you at every opportunity and using your back to step up into the camera focus to show us her new hairdos and how “together” she is. Maybe having eight kids does that to you. I’m sorry to say, that if you thought she was overbearing, controlling, and yelled at you before, honey it’s bound to be nothing like what you’ll experience as the ex-husband. The ex-cheating-husband. The ex-cheating-leave-my-wife-and-eight-kids-husband. That’s a Kate we haven’t even seen yet, and I didn’t think anything could be worse than the shopping in the toy store episode. It made me want to hide under the bed and I’m on the other side of the television.

I must admit to being inexplicably fascinated by your family and story when the series was new. I watched to see how two humans could possible raise that many kids who are that close together, since I only have three children and would like to rip out all my hair most days. The kids were cute, you and Kate seemed so normal, and most of the time it looked like—at the end of the day—things were going to be fine.

But now I’m Switzerland. At 32 you’re no victim, and laying low taking her blows is 50% of the problem. Seems to me, instead of trying to “stick it” to Kate (which is sure how it looks out here in viewerville), you’ve gone and reduced your family to just another dysfunctional example of how not to live. I watched your life to escape my reality (to a degree). If I wanted to see and hear more family dysfunction, I need only pick up the phone and dial close family and friends. There’s plenty to go around. I’m sure I’m also not the first to remind you, unlike those of us who live in relative anonymity, your life is not only recorded, but will no doubt be available in boxed sets in the series movie section at the local Target. Instead of labeling them “Season One” or “Season Two,” your family video collection may be labeled “Jon & Kate Plus 8: Media Machine Virgins,” “Jon & Kate Plus 8: Things Get Ugly,” “Jon & Kate Plus 8 Separate,” and the last season aptly titled, “The Aftermath.” Not only can the world re-live your moments, but your kids will be able to watch them with a bowl of popcorn. And maybe a glass of milk you brought home.

Honestly? I'm not willing to watch your show anymore; it's lost its appeal. I'll get my dose of Jon and Kate drama from the local tabloid headlines, or perhaps my MSN homepage when I fire up my internet. But there is something sad about watching two parents try to give their eight kids a normal life--claiming it's their first priority--when the rest of us adults know how the story ends. When you're finished experiencing the "life you missed out on," you'll see it too.

Sincerely,

Rachel Vidoni, realistic ex-viewer

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

If You Give a Mom a Headache


If You Give a Mom a Headache...
(Adapted from "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" by Laura Joffe Numeroff)

If you give a mom a headache, (because of children who were up crying all night), she’s going to want a drink. Since drinking grain alcohol at 7 a.m. is taboo in our culture, she’ll head for the coffee maker hoping for a stiff caffeinated pick-me-up. After pouring her mug of coffee, she’ll need to have some creamer. She’ll open the refrigerator looking for the creamer and feel like Erin Brokovich because of the vast empty space looming before her. While she doesn’t spot a roach, mom will notice lots of molding food crumbs and sticky orange liquid that has melded underneath all the produce drawers. She’ll make a mental note to clean the fridge later.

Mom sucks down her coffee with creamer while scribbling miscellaneous food items onto a grocery list. While thinking of her grocery list, it will occur to her that her husband’s birthday is Friday, the in-laws are coming on Thursday night, and Easter is Sunday, and she has no food, no plan, and no lists going for any of those events either. Mom will sigh and wonder what is so wrong with drinking grain alcohol at 7 in the morning. Glancing at the clock to confirm it is still 7 in the morning will remind mom that she needs to call the doctor’s office when the phone lines open at 8:30, in order to take (one of her up-all-night) daughters to have her ear checked. Thinking of her poor, ear-achy child will make mom wonder if there is any way she could still go to school today and how long Motrin will last, but since child neglect is also a social taboo, mom calls the doctor and gets an appointment for 9:45 a.m.

Mom heads to the doctor with two children, three errands to do, and a scribbled down grocery list. While driving to the doctor, mom notices that her gas light is on and she needs to stop and refuel. She’ll stop for gas, even if it means she’ll be a little late to the doctor’s office because if she runs out of gas, she’ll be really late. After gassing up, mom drives to the doctor and gets the confirmation that her daughter does indeed have an ear infection. Mom will rejoice at the diagnosis, not because she wants her daughter to be in pain, but because it means her $30 cop-pay wasn’t in vain. Thinking about that little ditty makes mom laugh to herself because she is such a good rhymer. Laughing to herself will make mom think about how mentally unstable people laugh at themselves, and since she feels a little unstable, tired, and overwhelmed herself, mom makes it a point to be in a non-humorous mood the rest of the day, for fear of being thought crazy.

Being in a negative mood and thinking about crazy people will remind mom that the next stop on the list is Price Right. She’ll head to the grocery store to purchase ridiculously cheap food and try very hard not to think about why it is so ridiculously cheap. When she enters the grocery store, she’ll notice carrots, and noticing carrots will remind her to get out her grocery list, and as she’s searching for the grocery list, she’ll remember that it’s sitting on the front seat of her van. Too tired, too cold, and in too foul a mood to go get it, she’ll impulse buy from one end of the store to the other, throwing unhealthy snack foods at her two daughters to keep them quiet. One hour, 7 bags of groceries, and $96.72 dollars later, mom loads the kids, the food, and herself back into the van to go home. Upon getting in the car, mom will spot the list on the front seat and remember that she has to stop by the pharmacy to pick up her daughter's prescription so she won’t cry all night and will be able to go school tomorrow. Thinking about her daughter going to school the next day puts mom in a suddenly decent mood, and she speeds all the way to CVS. While at CVS she picks up the prescription and drives home to unload the kids and the groceries.

While unloading the groceries onto the counter, mom remembers the spilled orange drink and moldy food bits in the fridge. She decides to wipe out and clean the icebox since it is so empty and shouldn’t take long anyway. While wiping down the shelves, mom notices that the rubber lining around the freezer is caked with additional dried food bits. Mom moves from the fridge to the rubber freezer lining, using her fingernail to shovel out the nastiness. Deciding that she’d rather use a knife to unencrust the rubber grooves, mom goes to the silverware drawer to find a sharp, pointy object. While rifling through the drawer, mom will be grossed out by how many chunks of food live here too-and vows never to eat off her utensils until that drawer is clean. Thinking about how much the drawer needs to be cleaned reminds her that the hovel she lives in also needs to be cleaned before her in-laws arrive on Thursday.

Thinking about Thursday will remind mom that today is Tuesday, the very day that one of her assignments is due. She’ll glance at the clock to see what time it is and realize with horror that it’s already noon and she has gone to the doctor, purchased groceries, picked up a prescription, cleaned the fridge and freezer liner, but has not done any writing. Panic gripping her, she realizes that she also used a good portion of the baby’s nap to clean the fridge, instead of sitting at the computer to bang out her assignment—one that actually helps contribute to the family bank account. She races to put the food away, swearing about the condition of her house, and making another mental note to add it to the list.

While mom is downstairs in the office working, the baby wakes up. Her other daughter’s ear is hurting again. Her son comes home from school with a friend. They need to eat, they need paper, they need to use the phone, the baby is crying, can I have, can I get, can I go, can I bring…while being bombarded by the children and overwhelmed by the events of the next few days and stressed out by her deadline, mom gets another headache. And if you give a mom a headache, she’s going to want a drink to go with it.

Only now it’s not 7 a.m.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Great Idea: Successful Communication Without Talking or Listening

I think I’ve found a new way to communicate with my children. No more long lectures about right and wrong. No more mom-o-logues about expectations and rules. The eye rolling will stop, the facts will get communicated, and what’s more, it will all be in writing. Those offspring of mine won’t have the chance to say, “I didn’t hear you,” or “I forgot.” I’m jumping on the “25 Things” bandwagon (a little late), and taking my family with me.

I’m a card-carrying Facebook addict; that social networking site that lets you rekindle all those dysfunctional relationships from high school. Not too long ago, the “25 Things You May Not Know About Me,” phenomenon swept through Facebook like a lighted gasoline trail. Everyone, including The Wall Street Journal , The Boston Globe, and the New York Times, has written and blogged about it. There are lovers and haters of this “25 Things” list. People who didn’t want to be burdened by personal information they would rather not know. People who loved reading about little nuances of friends and family. I happen to be a lover, enjoying the random personal tidbits thrown my way. That, and I’m a writer. Typing up a list of things about myself is right up my alley.

It occurred to me the other day, that creating lists would be a perfect way to start communicating with my children. Sure, they may only be nine, seven, and two, but I don’t think the list idea would be lost on them. I could impart all my motherly wisdom in chunks small enough to remember. My training in education comes in handy at this point, as I know full well that 25 things to remember is just not age appropriate. This, and my children have the attention span of a sand gnat, so I figure I’ll start a little more slowly, say with 15 things. My long lectures will be replaced by 15 bullet points highlighting only the most important facts at the time; “15 Things You Must Do Before You Can Play,” or in the future, “15 Reasons Not To Smoke or Do Drugs.” Bound neatly in a three-ring folder, labeled with applicable topics, it would serve as our family’s standard operating procedure manual.

The first list I’d like to share with my children is “15 Things It Would Be Helpful To Know About Me For Both Our Sakes.” I’d really rather not wait until my children are adults for them to come to grips with all my peccadilloes, or acknowledge that I am a person outside my mom jeans. It’s a blow when children come to the age of understanding that their parents are pretty screwed up all in all, and contrary to what I have told my son since he was born, we do not “know everything.” I think it would make the child rearing years go much more smoothly for my children to understand that I have some personality issues that helped form how I raised them, and not uncover those secrets in my diary while going through the attic junk after my funeral.

I compiled a list of the 15 things it would be most helpful to know about my personality. I figure if they read this, maybe my children can brainstorm some coping strategies on how to survive me, and be a support to one another as they get older. If nothing else, perhaps it will alleviate the number of counseling sessions in their future. Here’s my list:

15 Things It Would Be Helpful To Know About Me For Both Our Sakes

  • My deep seated germ-a-phobic nature goes back to my childhood. I cannot explain it, but when you touch the escalator handrail, public trashcans, anything in the bathroom, anything in public, anything at all, I have a visceral reaction that defies logic. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.
  • Life for everyone would be so much easier if you listened to me the first time.
  • I am controlling. The sooner you learn and accept this, the easier it will be for you to blow me off when I am freaking out over how the dishwasher is loaded.
  • I’m not the mom I always thought I’d be. I now know that ‘perfection’ is not a gene I was born with. You don’t have it either.
  • I’m not a morning person. There is no single worse way to start your day than by whining at me. You don’t want to get up? Neither did I.
  • When I say “in a minute” or “just a second,” it will never be a minute or a second. Never.
  • Even though you may think I hate you (if not now, then you’ll think this in a few years) I love you so much that I’d give up my life if it would guarantee your health and safety for the rest of your lives.
  • All of you children were surprises. The best presents I have ever gotten in my life. God knew that it was probably the only way you were going to get here, given my need to plan for perfect timing.
  • It is much easier to do things my way. If we do them your way, it will take a lot longer, there will usually be a lot of crying, and eventually we’ll end up doing it my way. See #3.
  • God gave me a very sparse dose of the Patience Virtue. It is sometimes so difficult to see, you might not think it’s in my being at all- but rest assured, the reason I only freak out at 85% of the things you do is because of what little patience I do have.
  • When we stay at a hotel and I make you wear socks in the shower and while walking on the carpet, I’m not afraid you’ll get your germs on the floor, it’s the other way around. You do not want to know what people do in hotel rooms.
  • I want you to grow up to be self-sufficient, capable adults. That’s why I’m teaching you how to clean the bathroom, start the laundry, and do household chores. It is not because I’m lazy, like you think.
  • I pray for you every night and bless you before I go to bed. Then I pray for myself all day long.
  • I love you each so much and am so worried for your safety that I often get up at night to double-check the doors and windows.
  • There is often no real reason for many of my arbitrary rules, but creating them is one of the very few perks of this parenthood job and I’m going to use it to my full advantage. When you are parents, you can make up your own fun rules to torture your children.

So there it is. The list that will start our family S.O.P When my kids start to argue with me, I will simply point to the three-ring binder on their desk. Refer them to the lists in black and white. Reference page numbers and line items. Communicating with my children will be so much more effective when I take the talking and listening out of it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Guest Blogger: Ted TenEyck

Introducing: Ted TenEyck. Guest Blogger, Social Worker and Funny Man. Close personal friend. If you're lucky enough to be on Ted's Christmas letter list, you already know how his mind works. Thought I'd pass the funny along and invite Ted to blog here now and then. Don't worry, he'll get his own blog up and running soon. Right Ted?

DO YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE TO HAVE A FATHER LIKE ME??? DO YOU???

I love the promises people make to themselves about what what life will be like when they are a parent: “When I have kids, I am only going to feed them organic foods.” “I refuse to use the television as a babysitter.” “I vow to not let being a parent impact my relationship with my friends.” And sure enough, a few years later these same people are plopping Junior down to watch the same episode of Spongebob Squarepants for the fourteenth time while serving him some Jimmy Dean Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick: Blueberry (a real product, by the way). This, of course, buys Junior’s parents some time to go on Facebook and attempt to reconnect with friends they have had no contact with since they first learned the art of how to suction a baby’s nose.

As for me, my false promise was that I would not subject either myself or my kids to traditional children’s music. Nine years and four kids later, I have 5,670 songs on my ipod. And I listen to the same thirty-three songs by The Wiggles in heavy rotation until I am pretty sure that my ears are going to start to bleed.

This was not something that I ever planned, and it was surely something that did not happened overnight. No, it was a slow gradual process, which began when I realized that finding music to meet everyones’ needs and tastes is much easier said than done. As a result, I now have very stringent requirements for anything that may eventually wind up in my “Tolerable Kids Music” playlist. The following is just a brief sampling of what it takes to be immediately disqualified from ever making that exclusive and elusive list:

Songs that may cause my kids to one day need antidepressants.
I have learned the hard way that my cherubs do not enjoy any of the 193 songs that make up my “Despondency” playlist. My eldest son reported to me that the folksy songs from the soundtrack to Once were, “giving me feelings that I don’t like.” I wanted to shout at him to “lean into the pain and feel your emotions,” but I thought I should just cut my losses and play something different.

I-Would-Rather-Look-At-How-Much-My-Financial-Portfolio-Lost-Last-Year than listen to these songs:
Surprisingly, Alvin and The Chipmunks are not the main offenders in this category; even when they cover “Funkytown.” This is still more tolerable to me than anything associated with High School Musical. Zac Efron, I swear on my mother’s grave that if I ever run into you and your faux-basketball-playing cohorts, I will personally kick the crap out of each and every one of you. And not because you did anything to me personally; rather, I will beat you to a bloody pulp because you introduced my kids to the genre of musicals. If I ever have to take any of my kids to a matinee of “Cats,” I will hold you responsible.

Songs that mention any of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV.”
Unfortunately, about a full one-third of my music library falls under this category. That probably wouldn’t happen if I had no taste and enjoyed “easy listening favorites.” Luckily, most of the time, the offending dialogue is really pretty blatant, allowing me to be a “good parent” and not play it for the kids. However...

One day while cleaning the kitchen, the song “URAQT” by M.I.A. started to play from my ipod. In a rare moment for me of pure excitement and joy, I picked up my daughter and danced with her for the duration of the song. Whenever we would hear the song again, my kids would beg me to do the “Silly Dance” with them. It quickly became a wonderful tradition. Around the seventy-fourth time we were enjoying this dance, my wife quietly asked me exactly what the words of the chorus were. Unsure myself, I looked up the lyrics on line. It was at that time that I discovered that the song is rather... well, filthy and profanity-laden. If I was capable of learning what the lyrics were, I was pretty sure that my kids one day would also discover what these lyrics were. And I thought that this was probably not the type of childhood memory that I wanted them to have of their father. There are already plenty of other memories that involve me that I wish I could permanently remove from their tiny little brains, so I did the only thing I could, and retired the “Silly Dance” immediately.

Songs that require me to have to explain how communist organizations work.
The Johnny Cash Children’s Album contains the extremely entertaining song “Why is a Fire Engine Red?” The song uses fun and silly word play, eventually concluding with the line: “The Russians are red. A fire engine is always rushin’ so it’s red too.” “I don’t get it!” my kids would shout when the song ended. “What does he mean by the Russians being red? Explain that to us Dad.” And that was the last time that I ever played that album for them again.

Songs that require me to have to explain how double negatives work.
I’m looking at you, theme from Ghostbusters. “Dad, I’m confused. ‘I ain’t afraid of no ghosts’ actually means that they really are afraid of ghosts, right?” “Yes, kids. You are correct. The writer of that song is indeed afraid of ghosts and is apparently also an idiot.”

Perfectly good songs that I ruined because I’m an idiot.
The soundtrack to Shrek the Third contains the classic song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin. The kids would listen to the song and recall the funny scenes from the movie when that song was played. And then one day I had to go and spoil all of their fun by shouting like a drill sergeant: “Do you know what this song is about? Do you? It’s about a father who didn’t spend enough time with his kids. DO YOU SEE HOW LUCKY YOU ARE TO HAVE A FATHER LIKE ME? DO YOU??” Surprisingly, the kids never wanted me to play that song again.

Any item in the wildly bizarre Kidz Bop catalogue.
What is better than a CD compiling all of the most popular radio hits from the past year? If all of the songs were sung by eight year olds! That's the concept behind this apparently popular product line. Not only are these songs painful to listen to, but they are at times downright creepy. That's because the producers didn’t apparently think about the fact that lyrics that were intended to be sung by adults would now be sung by third graders. For example, one song contains the line: “I can have another you in a minute. Matter fact, he’ll be here in a minute.” Sung by someone who will not be able to get her driver’s permit for at least another seven years. Isn’t that precious?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just an abbreviated list of reasons why I have resorted to just listening to The Wiggles as I drive around all day in my eight year old van. Feel free to call me lazy or a conformist. These labels may indeed be applicable. But listening to The Wiggles makes my life easier, even though now I have to explain to the kids on a daily basis why Greg Wiggle is no longer in the group because he has been diagnosed as having “orthostatic intolerance.” Although not an easy task, it is still better than the alternative: watching my five-year-old daughter walk around the house singing: “If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.”

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Boogers, snot, and mucus; the childhood "triple threat."

I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks watching my baby daughter perform magic tricks with her nose. (No, this isn't her. But I feel this parent's pain.) Every year February hits, and I’m crossing my fingers and legs that our family doesn’t get hit with the winter crud, but inevitably, everyone seems to come down with some version of the latest and greatest cold.

As a rule, my youngest daughter’s body tends to manifest colds and viruses in the form of fevers, ranging anywhere from four to ten days. I’m used to these fevers, know how to deal with them, and even keep a fever journal. It’s not uncommon for my daughter’s viral fevers to hit 105 degrees. I usually wait 72 hours, before taking her in, only to have our pediatrician tell me to “continue piggy backing Tylenol and Motrin, and come back in about 6 days if her fever hasn’t broken.” Well, okay. I can do that. The last time I brought my daughter in for her well visit, he asked me about her fevers.
“So, it looks like here (reading her chart) that she hasn’t had one of her fevers since November.”
“No, actually, she had another fever bout in December. It got up to 106,” I replied.
“You mean 100.6? Or 106? That’s a huge difference,” my pediatrician stated, with a tinge of worry on his face.
“No, 106,” I told him. “I just kept giving her Tylenol and Motrin, like we usually do.”
“Okay,” he starts off. “I know you’re used to dealing with her high fevers, but when it hits 106, we really should take a look at her,” he told me, incredulously. As I was leaving the office I overheard him telling another pediatrician, “…her child had a fever of 106, and she didn’t bring her in because she is so used to dealing with them…” laced with can-you-believe-this tone. Okay, point taken. Apparently there is a limit to how hot your child is allowed to be.

I mention this little episode, because until two weeks ago, my youngest had yet to catch the common cold, typical of every little person from birth to ten. Which is why I was so unprepared to deal with her nose. She didn’t sleep 24 hours a day like her feverish episodes. She’s in a quandary about whether to breath or suck on her binky, and at her very young age, has managed to create a hybrid system where she can do both. It’s suck-suck-suck-suck-BREATHE-uhh-BREATHE-uhh-suck-suck-suck-suck-BREATHE-uhh-BREATHE-uhhh. The binky’s enveloped in a web of snot, and she’s up, running around, leaving a slime trail all over the house.

One minute she’s playing with her toys, face clean as you please, and the next I look over and her head is a glistening pool of mucus. She’s got a snotty nose that could rival the best stereotypic-diaper-clad-trailer-park-two-year-old in winter. She was making some magnificent sounds the other day, until I looked over and found that the snot was bubbling around her vibrating lips, lending a new instrumentation that-while grotesque-was oddly pleasing. Curious to hear more, but feeling the mom-guilt stab at me, I grabbed for the tissue and put and end to her melody, but silently wondered what the rest of her opus would have sounded like.

In addition to her musical talents, she also performs a version of the rainbow-handkerchief-up-the-sleeve trick, wherein I’ll wipe her nose, and there’s a long string of booger that refuses to give in. I’m pulling-wiping-pulling-wiping, and it’s changing colors; it’s blue, now red, here comes the green one, next is yellow, and finally after pulling-and-wiping and changing tissues five times to no avail, I relent and break the dammed booger off, leaving the stringy end in her nose to be pulled again at a later date.

If it’s not the stringy booger trick, it’s the “where’s the slug?” trick. You’ve all seen this one; that thick yellow slug-booger slowly inches its way down the upper lip and just before you lean in for the kill, SUCK! its gone again. You wait, staring at your toddler’s nose for the booger-slug to emerge. Seconds later, there it is... the nasty little creature slimes it’s way out and down the lip, but you’re ready this time, you’ve almost got the fleshy booger in your grasp, and SUCK! it disappears. At this point I really want to yell at my 20-month-old daughter to “QUIT SUCKING IT IN!” but she’s running now, with the slug on her lip, and a new slug emerges, sitting-bitch to the next one, both going for a joy ride on my daughter’s face while she laughs and runs in the opposite direction from me. You can faintly hear those slug boogers chanting, “You can’t catch us, we’re the booger-slug men!” I finally trap my daughter in her room, coming after her with fifteen tissues, and find her “hiding” from me on her sister’s bed. “Hiding,” for my toddler, consists of covering her eyes and putting her face down so she can’t see you. Never mind she’s standing there in the middle of the room in plain sight. I make it over to her only to find…you guessed it. Dead slug-booger carcass all over her sister’s sheets. Lovely.

In fact, one doesn’t need to step too far into my home to see the slimy, gelatinous, mucus remnants from my daughter. There’s sticky residue on the light switches she reaches to click-on-click-off-click-on-click-off, there are clear stripes marking her place at the table, and of course the back of her chair where she pulls herself up. Clear dried residue from cheek to ear. Tacky little fingers encased in lint and dirt, from wiping her nose and playing on the carpet. At the height of the snot infestation, I would get her up in the morning to find a crusty, yellow conglomeration sealing the nostrils almost totally shut, save for two small air holes; looking like someone tried to paper mache a mask on her over night. The dried nose crust is the worst to try and remove. At some point in all our lives, we’ve tried to pop that little nose zit or black head, the one that makes your eyes water just contemplating, the one that you swear you’re going to let fester, because you cannot bear the pain of getting rid of it. I’m trying to figure which would hurt less; peeling the booger crustacean off with a putty knife? Chipping away at it with my pinky-nail? Trying to steam it off, with a humidifier and towel? Either way there is going to be screaming. My daughter is not going to be too happy about it either.

I’d like to know if anyone has ever thought of trying to harvest childhood mucus. My daughter’s yellow-ooze is so sticky I have a million uses for it at home. Hanging wallpaper, is one thing that comes to mind. Gluing the broken head on my Willow Tree figurine, is another. The kid’s many paper projects. Christmas crafts. Heck, I bet with enough snot, you could even use it as an adhesive under your laminate flooring. Forget super glue! Hot glue is so 90’s! Go “green” and repurpose your child’s infectious mucus. Imagine how much money you could save, if you follow the mantra, “Reduce, reuse recycle.”

But how to harvest the slime? A bucket around my child’s head, while cost-effective, seems a tad abusive and would get in the way of nap and bed times, which are prime booger-collecting opportunities. No doubt we’ve all got that classic blue bulb-syringe hanging around somewhere in the house. The standard-issue hospital parting gift, for dropping a few thousand at their facility to give birth to your baby. I love the fact that everyone gets one of these syringes, (which are sooo much more useful than, say diapers would be) and yet the pediatrician always tells you not to use them. My kids always had more fun using it as a teether (it can get way in the mouth for those back teeth cuttings) than I ever did trying to suck snot from their nose. We’ve all been there, one spouse trying to hold the child’s thrashing head still in vice-like grip, the other parent trying to keep the bottom of the bulb compressed while attempting not to give their child an accidental frontal-lobotomy cramming said bulb up child's very small nostril. No... decidedly, NOT effective.

I came upon the Nosefrida Nasal Aspirator, while doing a Google search on boogers. (It’s always amazing what you come up with when you Google such words.) This device actually has a mucus-catching reservoir, which would be perfect if you’re trying to use your child’s snot as family glue. Basically, you stick the reservoir end into the child’s nose, place the end of the tube in your own mouth, and then suck your child’s boogers right out their little nasal cavity. Don’t worry, you won’t get the salty mess in your mouth, thanks to the snot-trap at the end of the reservoir. Really, they’ve thought of everything. With only a $15 dollar investment, think how much snot you could harvest during a standard cold and flu season: 1 nose aspirator + 3 sick children= unlimited booger glue possibilities. Priceless.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Guest Bloggers!

Hey all! I wanted to let everyone know that I will occasionally be hosting Guest Bloggers on my site! This will give you an opportunity to read about perspectives other than my own (although freakishly similar, go figure.) I'd like to introduce my sister, Megan Rose; high ranking PR exec., fabulous writer, and mom extraordinaire! She's a hoot!

The Current Sad State of Human Interaction

Breaking News!! Third in line for the throne, the cute red headed soldier, Prince Harry, is single. Not really news in itself, I guess…but what is news (apparently) is how he found out…nope, it wasn’t a phone call late at night from a love that was fed up with his flirtatious ways…it wasn’t even a “Dear Harry” letter explaining that she just couldn’t be a part of his life anymore…it was that his girlfriend changed her relationship status on Facebook. Really?

Sigh. This makes me sad. The state of the human race is at stake…isn’t it? The dawn of the social media movement is really the curtain call for the face to face interaction of yesteryear. Maybe it is therapeutic. Maybe being able to hide behind a computer, phone or blackberry and tell everyone what you are doing or thinking (in 140 characters or less please) helps people bond. Maybe terminating friendships, quitting jobs or telling someone off is better handled via this new revolution. It certainly is easier- check your convictions (and spine) at the door and go ahead and hit send.

Social media has opened the door for regular Joes to opine in the world. I am not opposed to this. The question I have is what is the cost of this phenomenon? Many things take place when a conversation happens face to face, namely, that you can see the other person’s reaction. Oh- and accountability. That is an important one. Happy faces :) have taken the place of genuine, light up the room smiles. “LOL” has taken the place of hearty bellowing laughter. Am I the only one that thinks this is sad? Or- am I being like my grandparents who refuse to learn how to use a computer and email?

Can a value for people and relationships be fostered through this new medium of the 21st century? For me, I am still not sold on it. No text message will take the place of a firm hand shake and no status update will take the place of a good venting session with a friend over a glass of wine. I guess time will tell how it will affect us- for the good or for the bad. As for me, I will cautiously advance with these trends all the while holding firm in the knowledge that is time tested and mother approved- true relationships are formed without the intermediary of shiny PDA’s.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Kids; Junkies?

My nine-year-old son has a problem. He thinks about it constantly, asks for it incessantly. Begs for it during the week, makes deals to use it, thrashes and sobs when we take it away. No, not alcohol as one might suspect, or drugs as one might fear. No, my son is addicted to his Nintendo DS.

I do not say addicted lightly. This $140 dollar metal poptart has stolen my sweet son, who used to have other interests and cared about his family. But wielding his DS, our family could be perishing in a fiery inferno, and my son would look up long enough to say, “I just beat level three mom and dad! It was so much easier than I thought!”

My son has also dragged his sister into this sick and twisted gaming world. My seven-year-old was oblivious to video games until about six months ago. It started innocently enough, with that gateway-game on the XBOX 360, Cloning Cycle. He showed her how to play it. How to get ahead. How to make the little guy jump and dive. How to score points. Suddenly video games were on her Christmas list. Her birthday list. My video-dealing son got her hooked and moved in for the kill: he introduced her to the big-time DS.

Although my daughter does not have her own DS system, she wants one. She plays her brother’s and they fight over who gets to play it first or who played it longer. Their thumbs are starting to dislodge from their joint sockets, allowing for 360 degree thumb rotation. So much better for multi-tasking those buttons, but those same kids can’t pick their socks off the floor.

Our family has a no-tv-or-video-games-during-the-school-week-policy. We do let our son use the DS when he is in the bathroom, for a variety of really good reasons that I won’t mention here. But to keep things fair, we figured we also had to allow our daughter to play it while on the commode, but no more than 10 minutes at a time. There has been an amazing spike in the number of times my children need to use the restroom now. They must be eating and drinking machines at school, because they announce they need to use the restroom about 50 times a day. They grab the DS on their way to the bathroom. “Wait a minute! You can only use it to go #2!” I yell. “I better see some poop in that toilet!”

Things hit a real low for my son the other day, when my husband and I discovered for the second time (gasp), that he has been sneaking his game-heroin at night. Playing it in his bed while we think he’s sleeping. So that’s why he wakes up in the morning, groggy, miserable and bag-eyed. And I thought his pillow was too stiff.

My husband and I staged an intervention. Their 20-month-old sister was there to attest to the turmoil these games have caused in her life. More than once she has fallen down the stairs or ate some foreign object from beneath the baseboard heaters, because her siblings were too absorbed in the DS to look after her. We would have called in our pet guinea pig to testify that he too was ignored and abandoned due to the children’s obsession with gaming. But we got rid of Shadow a while back because….you guessed it….the kids couldn’t be bothered to look after another living being in the house. My husband and I each fought back tears as we choked out how much we loved them (our children) and how scared we were for their future, should this addiction continue. “Your grades will suffer!” we chanted. “Your eyes will pop right out of your head!” we cautioned. “You’re becoming kids we don’t even recognize! We can’t take it anymore!” we bellowed.

We threatened to send our son to Amsterdam, where there is a video-game detox program, ready to help and lend a hand. My son wasn’t quite ready to move across the country. We researched the contact information for On-line Gamers Anonymous, and read the signs and symptoms of game-addiction. My husband and I have wracked our brains trying to figure out where all our strict parenting went wrong…is it us? Is my son predisposed to addictive activities? Or perhaps is it a brain disorder like some claim?

I’m sure we’re not the only parents dealing with this childhood sickness. You may be thinking I’m over-reacting. I suppose you could be right. In fact, my good friend Pam actually plays video games with her sons; helps them beat the tough levels, helps them kill those virtual foes who simply throw the fireballs too quickly for a seven-year-old thumb to react. Apparently she is one of those “cool moms” that embraces things her children do; one of those parents who enjoy partaking in their children’s fun. She claims she teaches them such novel childhood lessons as being a good sport, taking turns, handling disappointment when they lose. She’s even been known to get so lost in the DS games herself (trying to help my son and her sons beat a level) that she actually told my son to shut up. I don't blame her. I’ve no doubt my addicted son was jones-ing for the DS-bong, nervously tapping his foot on the floor, waiting his turn to try and beat the level, repeating the phrases, “IcandoitletmetrynoIcandoityoudiditwrongletme-tryletmetryletmetrynorealyIbetIcandoit..” in eerie monastic monotones over her shoulder, and she snapped. I suppose the thrill of the video-kill could do that to a person. Or worse.

Have you heard about the 17 year-old teen in Ohio, who killed his mother and shot his father in the head, because they wouldn’t let him play Halo3? I know, it sounds too far fetched to be true. But the kicker is that the only thing he took from the house after the incident, was the Halo3 game. Okay, so not all video-game-playing kids are this sick. It only takes one jack-ass to upturn the apple cart and spoil it for the rest. But I have to admit, after reading this article, I might be peeking through my hands when my son says to me, “Close your eyes mom, I have surprise for you.”

Halo is also a game my son wants to play. He keeps asking when he can play games that are rated “M.” I keep telling him that when his is an “M” I’ll let him play M games. “What does that mean?” he asks me. I paused. Thought. And replied:

“You can play “M” games when you can explain to me in significant detail what ‘the dignity of the human person’ means.” This has stumped him for awhile, and he keeps insisting, “It just means be respectful to others, right?” Well, there’s more to it than that. I figure by the time he’s 15 or 16 he might understand it, and then we can revisit those “M” games. Right after his volunteer hours with the food pantry, homeless facilities, and battered women shelters.

And if you were all still concerned about the state of our economy, apparently not all businesses are going under. According to the Wednesday edition of the Wall Street Journal, Gamestop Corp. is alive and well, thanks to their sales of new and used video games. Sales from games are expected to reach $2 billion dollars, up from $1.6 billion dollars last year at this same time. If you are unemployed, you might want to apply at Gamestop, because apparently, in these tough times, what us American's need to fight off the recession and get our minds off the cost of groceries and our late mortgage payments, is a little gaming distraction. And I'm pretty sure they are an equal-opportunity employer, although a skater t-shirt and a body piercing probably wouldn't hurt your interview image.

Well, as a concerned parent, I'm trying. Trying to put the focus of life back where it belongs; in school, family, faith, and friends. (Not necessarily in that order.) I'm glad to know that my husband and I are on the same page, dedicated to protecting our children and helping them aquire some perspective.

The other day my son was looking for his DS, couldn’t find it anywhere. It wasn’t where he put it. It wasn’t charging. It was a weekend, and he needed to use the restroom. He was beside himself. I walked into my bedroom to help my son look, and find: my husband playing the Nintendo DS in our bed. “Have you been in here playing this the whole time?” I asked. “What kind of lesson does this teach the kids?” I grumbled.

“I don’t know..” he replied. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Money Matters

My son has been hounding me to come up with a list of things he can do to earn money. He would like to amass wads of cash, not to give away to a local shelter, or buy something nice for the mother who cares for him 24/7, or even to save up for a really big item that would be beneficial for a boy his age—say a new mattress for his bed, or efficient lighting by which to study. No, my son would like wads of cash to purchase games for his Nintendo DS. This cursed thing was brought by (who else) Santa, even though I was previously pretty specific about what I wanted each child to have. (Damn Santa.) This hand held video contraption is now my kryptonite, closing in on my other arch nemesis, the XBOX 360. Buying video games is now the sole reason my son wants to engage in any sort of physical labor or has even a slight interest in performing a duty with a purpose.

My son needs this list of money earning activities because he doesn’t receive an allowance. Although he is nine, we haven’t started the allowance thing for a number of reasons. For one, I don’t feel right about giving him money to do chores. Chores in my book, are things you do

because you are part of a family and everyone has to pull their own weight. Dishes, vaccumming, putting your laundry away, wiping the dust from the baseboards, these are all things I feel my kids should do because I let them live here. No one pays me to cook dinner and pick my underwear off the floor, why should my kids be any different? The opposite side of that argument is that I also don’t feel like I should give my kids money just to give them money. Allowance isn’t a basic human necessity and I’m not handing money over to them simply because other parents are doing it, or to teach them the “value of a dollar,” or any other rhetorical crap parents use these days. You know when it comes right down to it and Johnny is short $1.23, the majority of parents will chip in, thereby defeating the purpose of managing money to begin with, so allowance these days doesn’t really teach kids anything. Besides, last I looked nobody was handing me money for the freedom of it, so there you go.

Even if my husband and I decided to give our children allowance, what's a reasonable allowance these days anyway? Surely it has to be more than the $5 bucks a week I got when I was nine. I found this allowance calculator helpful. It suggested that allowance be $1 for every year of age per week, so in my son's case, $9 dollars a week. But wait, that's $432.00 per year, for my son to buy things as he pleases! I don't even spend that kind of money on whatever I want. Why does my nine year old have more money than I do, and he doesn't even work? (I do work BTW.)

No, I want my kids to earn the money somehow, but not by doing chores. This leaves me to come up with a list of activities and the dollar values associated with each. I don’t want the kid to have to shovel snow for 50 cents an hour, but also don’t think that clearing the front walk is worth 10 bucks. As much as I complain about all the things there are to do around my house, I’m really having trouble coming up with a list of things for my son to do.

  • Chop Firewood? No, too dangerous. (Even though my husband has given my son a hatchet and lets him cut kindling, I’m not going to be around when CPS comes to inquire about my son’s missing digits.)
  • Make Dinner? Only if we wanted to eat frozen waffles with peanut butter, and granola bars.
  • Iron Clothes? Requires too much attention to detail, namely, not burning the item of clothing while he focuses on the steam coming out the top and wondering how it’s doing that, and looking to see where the water will go in…
  • Babysitting his sister? This task can only be completed if its no longer than 15 minutes at a time, there is no external stimuli such as tv, music, and definitely not video games, and if they are both secured to one room with only baby toys. Then again, how much is 15 minutes of babysitting worth?

I found some more helpful suggestions on Moneyinstructor.com. A lemonade stand. Good one, but it's 20 degrees outside. Washing the car. Another good one, but the resulting water would turn our driveway into an ice-rink. Pet grooming. This would have been a keeper idea, save for the fact that we no longer own any pets, because my children wouldn't take care of them in the first place. Gardening. Wrong season. Argg.

I remember being a kid and asking for a list of things to do to earn money. I remember that this lasted well into my young married days when my parents hired me to faux paint various rooms in their house. I think it’d be great if we could return to those days, earning a little allowance for yourself by doing things for the neighbors. You could fund little outings with your spouse with this ancillary cash. Here’s what that might look like:

Husband: “Hey honey, you want to get a sitter for the kids on Saturday and catch a movie, maybe dinner?”
Wife: “That sounds great! How much do you think we’ll need?”
H: “Well, $35 for movies, $25 for dinner at Wendys, and $300 for the babysitter for four hours, that comes to…$360.00 total.”
W: “Hmmm. Okay. I’ll hit up the Smiths on the corner and see if I can clean their bathrooms for 10 bucks each; then I’ll call the Waverlys and skim their pool and scrub their cool-decking for 10 more bucks; and I’ll check with my parents and see if I can get a $15 IOU for any weeding my mom might need come summer. What about you?”
H: “I think I’ll call up Harold and see if I can chop a cord of wood for him. That would net me about $25. Then I’ll call up my sister and see if I can re-caulk her shower stalls and switch out all her lead plumbing to copper. That should get me about $100. I think Grandma needs some errands done, so I’ll only charge her $30 for my time. What’s that leave us with?”
W: “210.00.”
H: “We’re $150 dollars short. Those damned babysitters make so much money!”
W: “Do you think our son could do it? Babysit for the others, I mean?”
H: “What, and leave a nine year old in charge of two other kids for four hours at night?”
Silence.
H: “That sounds like a great idea! We’ll offer to pay him $20—our son does want to earn money after all—which gives us an excess of $150 bucks! Want to go away for the weekend?

Well, I’m no closer to coming up with a good list for my son, even though I told him I had a list ready. I suppose I need to be grateful he wants to earn it, rather than assuming I will simply buy it for him. Perhaps as this generation of children get older and enter the work force, it won’t be work-for-pay, but work-for-videogames. Maybe video games will become the new currency and will replace the Yen, Euro and dollar bill. At least this is what my son wants to work for. And millions of boys just like him no doubt.