Friday, December 28, 2007

The Tween Christmas

It was a rough Christmas for The Girl. She is 13, the age where no one quite knows what to buy for you. At 13, you are too old for dolls, although some part of you may still yearn for them. At 13, you love new and fashionable clothes, but still feel cheated if that is all you get. It's the equivalent of an "underwear Christmas". But there are no "toys" for 13-year-olds. Basically, there are electronics and video games, the occasional board game that disappoints because you can never get anyone to sit and play it with you and there are clothes.

Don't get me wrong, she loved her presents, even the clothes and the "girly" items. But some part of her deep down inside is not quite ready to give up her child's Christmas. I understand because I was thirteen once. Thirteen is a bridge between the child you were and the woman you will be. The woman who is struggling to become tries to shake off the child that still desperately clings and it's both exhilirating and heartbreaking.

I remember when I was nearly that age, maybe 11 or 12. I had my eye on a doll that rode her own little bike and it was just the sort of doll I had always wanted but never had found under the Christmas tree. Due to one of my tomboyish escapades, I had broken a tooth some years earlier and now I was at the age where the dentist wanted to do a more permanent repair; my dental age being sufficiently matured, something other than the bonding was required. Because this was to be a long and painful procedure, my mother wanted to reward me with something that would make up for the long hours in the dentist chair and lift my spirits. I asked for that doll.

It wasn't until I actually had the doll in hand that I realized what a mistake it was to have asked for it. I wanted to play with her and feel the joy and wonder that I would have felt if I had been a few years younger, but I didn't. No, I wasn't trying to recapture my youth. I realize now, it was the child in me trying to create the experience she had always wanted and never had. A last desperate act of the child in me trying to resolve final issues and tie up loose ends as the woman slowly assumed control.

I wish I weren't aware of my tween's struggle, or why she seemed so disappointed. It would be easier to tell her to grow up and act her age, to explain that she is too old for toys and that she needed the clothes and the boots and the bath accessories. But instead, I want to go out and buy her a toy, a doll, or a stuffed animal, anything that would say, it's okay to be an in-between. As a mother, I mourn the loss of the girl-child as much as I take pride in the emergence of the young woman.

Perhaps I should tell her about my doll.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Anticipation of Precipitation

It's been three years since we had a snowy winter, and The Boy was much younger then, much easier to pry off a snowbank and convince that we should take refuge from the icy pellets striking our faces. During that time, I had forgotten what it was to be a child in the snow. I had forgotten that children don't get cold. They don't notice icicles hanging from dripping noses or that their mittens are ice-caked, nor the brittle, frozen digits encased therein until they nearly break one off. I had forgotten how many pairs of pants, gloves, and mittens are soaked through in only one afternoon's snow play (The Boy set a record of 8 pairs of pants this weekend). But mostly, I had forgotten what snow means to a child.

To them, the snow is a mysterious gift. It covers the hard and unforgiving ground with a soft blanket. It cushions their falls and wraps itself around them. It transforms the bleak landscape into a white playground of delights. Surely, snow was made for children. They belong to the church of the Anticipation of Precipitation, and truly they believe.

They are glued to the television as the snow evangelists talk about rain/snow lines and visions of the storm as seen by satellite and radar - the tools of the meteorological prophet. In an ancient ritual, they don pajamas inside out and backwards to insure enough snow to cause the schools to close. They lay down at night with prayers on their lips. "Lord, thank you for the snow we are about to receive".

And when it comes, they erect a monument in thankfulness for their bounty, as those who came before have always done.

Friday, December 14, 2007

We are Not Amused

I am not often in favor of more governmental regulation, for as we know, it usually makes things more expensive and increases red tape, but I was amazed to find out that there is almost no regulation when it comes to amusement park rides. Even those amazing rides at Disney World do not have to meet any government regulations for safety and in fact, the government cannot inspect them or even come into the amusement park unless invited to do so.

An average of four deaths and thousands of injuries take place on amusement park rides every year. Faulty rides are often disassembled after an injury, before any inspector gets there to conduct an investigation.

But a bill to set federal standards on safety and inspections of these rides has been waylaid in the House of Representatives and may not be voted on before the holiday recess. Lobbying by the powerful amusement park industry seeks to prevent it from passing.

People go to amusement parks to have fun. We expect to be thrilled, excited, maybe even scared - not to suffer serious injury or be killed. I have always thought there were some kind of standards that regulated what rides could operate. Apparently, there aren't any federal regulations whatsoever, and federal regulations are necessary because of the number of carnivals that travel state to state each summer.

I think everyone should contact their representatives in Congress and tell them that this bill needs to be addressed as quickly as possible and not shoved off the calendar. Now that it is winter, the flurry of stories of ride injuries and deaths is over and people forget. Let's tell them to act now to avoid another case like 13-year-old Kaitlyn Lassiter who had both feet severed by a loose cable on the Tower of Power at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. Tell them that we won't forget. Our kids are too important for us to forget.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mothers Are Always Right

The Boy has a friend, a rather rambunctious friend whose favorite things are not raindrops on roses, but rather wrestlers raining destruction. The Boy has his rambunctious side but can often be cajoled into a quiet way of occupying his time - a movie, a video game, a model car to build or the reading of a book. His friend, however, does not seem to be blessed with the "sit-down gene". It makes me wonder at times if he is physically capable of bending at the waist. I do know he is physically capable of nonstop movement.

Needless to say, the playdates when his friend visits are noisy times of constant warnings from me, the most common refrain being "don't do that, you'll break your neck". Imagine my surprise when the boy came tearfully to me the other evening, one hand to his head, crying "I think I broke my neck".

Ah ha, you say, there she goes off in a panic! But I was amazingly calm, being almost as convinced as The Boy that nothing I worry about ever really happens. I saw The Boy walk into the room, he could breathe and talk; therefore, it was unlikely that his neck was broken.

However, he refused to move further and cried in pain so that I decided I couldn't transport him to hospital myself, but rather called 911 for an ambulance. I knew they would secure his neck to avoid any further injury which they did by strapping him down to a longboard and off we went to the hospital. The paramedics assigned me to the front seat of the ambulance next to the driver. Now, here was something I was free to panic about, and I made the most of it. It's a curiously insecure feeling to be in a vehicle that weaves its way in and out of traffic while emitting a high-pitched scream. I thought screaming was my job.

In the end, the true story came out that (with his friend's encouragement)The Boy decided to jump onto his bed from the bureau and gave himself a nice case of whiplash. After four hours in the emergency room, and the testing of all extremities, it was determined that there was no serious injury but a very strong muscle spasm that caused a good deal of pain.

They gave him a muscle relaxer, some pain reliever and a soft collar to support his neck. Once he had the muscle relaxer, he hardly seemed to need any of their other ministrations. They had released him from the constraints of the longboard many hours before, but The Boy had lain stiff and still, hands at his side for those long hours. Suddenly, he was gesturing with his hands, moving his legs and being animated and happy. Instead of being shocked that they administered such a medication to my small son, I experienced a feeling of gratitude that they gave me a prescription to get four more doses. That meant two more days of this pleasant and delightful child.

It shouldn't come as a shock to me when The Boy does something boyish and suffers the natural consequences. It may not even be his fault or stem from the fact that he's a boy. As a tomboy who was always chasing after my older brother, I spent many hours in the emergency room myself as a child, and caused my mother her share of worry. So perhaps I am only reaping what I have sown.

But the important and most lasting lesson to be learned from all this is that mothers are always right. When we giggled for hours as children, my mother used to say "you'll end up crying" and she was always right (although usually it was because eventually we got a spanking for our loud and annoying behavior). Thankfully, The Boy didn't break his neck but that doesn't mean I was wrong, and maybe in the future, my warnings will carry just a hint more credibility.

Although they still may not listen to "one day your face will freeze like that".

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Elegant Rug

When I was young and proving useless and aimless (well, perhaps disinterested is a better word) I had a guidance counselor at school who felt that finding me a good way to expand my horizons might rev up my interest level in life and school and maybe even homework. So, off I went for piano lessons.

Although I was a poor student in that I rarely practiced, I enjoyed taking piano lessons and playing music. But I enjoyed going to my music teacher's home more than the lessons or the music.

She had a wonderful array of books and lamps and vases and items that evoked the style and attitudes of an earlier period. The house had atmosphere. There may have been rock n' roll and dayglo and tie-dye outside, but in her world there was Bach, Beethoven and a sumptuous Victorian elegance.

What I admired most were her gorgeous rugs, of which she had two. They were Perisan carpets of different color schemes, one mostly red and the other a delicate blue. This firmly set Persian rugs in my mind as the ultimate in home decoration.

This rug is nearly exactly like the blue rug in my teacher's front room. In my child's mind, it has become the symbol of what I want when I finally achieve my goals and have the home I want. I will build my decor around it, in fact, there will be a room dedicated to it. A bright, open room with shiny, hardwood floors and a shiny, black baby grand piano to perfectly accent my rug.

There are other criteria for this dream house such as that it must be by a lake or the ocean and I have this idea about a deck but all of that is very complicated so I am going to concentrate on starting with the rug. I will work up from there.

Fighting Fat with Coffee

As evidenced by the coffee cup prominently displayed in the upper right hand corner of this blog, you will note that coffee is one of my passions. I am not picky, I love nearly all coffee - except for two brands, neither of which I will name but if you have tried them, you feel exactly the same way as I do and don't need me to tell you which they are.

Now and again I will run across an article touting the health benefits of coffee and I will proudly tell friends, neighbors, readers and anyone who can't politely dismiss themselves from the conversation, all about how good it is for me to drink gallons of coffee per day.

But even I have trouble believing this study. Brazilian researchers (who, I am sure are completely unbiased towards coffee products) have discovered that a body cream laced with a 7% caffeine solution will slim your hips and thighs. 80% of women applying this cream lost inches off their thighs and 69% lost inches from their hips as well. They applied this cream for 30 days.

There was no explanation as to how this cream accomplished these effects and no scientific basis given for the fat-busting properties of caffeine. In fact, they said that the cellulite composition was unchanged by the cream and they don't know why the women got thinner.

I don't believe a word of it. But just in case, there's no harm in taking a coffee bath, is there?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Sweetest Two Minutes

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Boy got a cell phone for his birthday. It's not a fancy job, just a basic phone with few bells and whistles. It's not the cool flip-phone, it didn't come in fire engine red and it doesn't have a camera. The worst of it is, it only has as many minutes of air time as his mom buys for it. It's a prepaid.

I was very impressed though, with the way he hoarded his minutes. He wanted to use his high-tech present so badly, but didn't want to waste precious airtime so he would announce "I am calling you, but don't answer the phone". A few minutes later he would ask me to call him though he had no intention of answering. It was just to experience the joy of dialing and listening to it ring. It was also a good way for him to learn how it worked and try out all the programmed numbers, so I didn't mind. He would make a few aborted phone calls and then promptly turn the phone off, so that no one would call him and accidentally waste his minutes.

Of course, they are all gone now. After a few days, he couldn't resist the urge to call his best friend's cell phone and of course, there were the school bus conversations between us "We're behind a really big truck blocking our way, I think we're going to be here a while", "Are you almost home yet?" and the one time his sister sat on it, accidentally dialing an aunt whose answering machine recorded several minutes of children bickering before it beeped. I did warn him that minutes would be doled out in a most miserly fashion, so it is a little disappointing that he went through his first 20 minutes so quickly.

But the last few minutes he used were the most precious. My cell rang yesterday about midday. When I saw it was The Boy calling, I was concerned. He was still at school, wasn't he? Was he hurt? Was he sick?

"Hi mom", he started. I quickly ran down the list of my fears, to each of which he replied "no". He wasn't sick or in trouble or lost or hurt.

"I'm calling from the bathroom", he whispered. "I just wanted to say Hi because I missed you".

Of course, you just know who bought himself another 20 minutes of airtime with that phone call.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kids, Photos and Christmas Cards

At times it seems like there's very little holding polite society together. In years past we had Emily Post to show us the way, but rumor has it that she's dead. One custom that still indicates that civilization has not entirely ceased to be is the sending of Christmas Cards.

For many years now, I have failed my duty. I have been one of those scatter-brained and impolite few who do not send out Christmas Cards, while proudly displaying and crowing over each card I have received. So many of my friends have been generous, and rewarded me with greetings although I sent none in return. However, over time, the lack of reciprocal greetings has started to cause me to be dropped from a few Christmas lists. Like Scrooge, I jealously guarded my take while never thinking to give. And like Scrooge, I have had a revelation: it is better to give than to receive.

I don't know if my redemption has come too late to restore my name to card-sending lists, but it doesn't really matter, I am not too late to order the Christmas Cards. VistaPrint says that I can create and receive them in only three days. I suspect that not a few of my friends and relatives will probably faint on the postman's shoulder. What's more, I am going to go the whole proud mommy route and put a photo of the kids on my Holiday cards. Maybe wearing Santa hats.

I might go for the amazingly inexpensive postcards or do the thing up right with folding cards. I just have to choose the design. The one with the little penguins is very cute or maybe something with angels. You know, little angels, my children. Well it's just an idea. Now if I can just get the kids to sit down next to each other without fighting just long enough to take the picture...

School Bus Tales

Monday was The Boy's first day on the school bus. Oh, I know school started months ago, but we hadn't planned on needing the bus at first. Initially, I was going to continue to drive him to school but then those plans changed. Then, for a while, his friend's mother had graciously offered to pick him up and drop him off. The circumstances that made that possible then changed and the bus was the only option left. It was a hard sell.

The Boy has always seemed all-confident to me, in every endeavor. Like most boys, he thinks he can do anything and often he is right. He has compared his mother's continuous cautioning -"don't do that, you'll get hurt" - with the usual outcome - "see, I didn't get hurt" - and this has only strengthened his conviction that Mom is a worry-wort and he's invincible. So I was unprepared for his nervousness about the school bus. He simply told me "I am not going to get on the bus".

To tell the truth, I was nervous too. It's my job, I'm a mom. I was careful to try to hide it although, it may have shown through in the fact that he did get that cell phone for his birthday (for emergency calls to Mom in case he got lost) and the fact that I may have told him 20 or so times to make sure he didn't get out of the bus until the driver assured him that this was his stop, and that we went over all the subsequent numbers he should call (all programmed into the phone) if for any reason I didn't answer.

In my defense, I had a hard time of it when The Girl took the bus. We had several incidents where the bus didn't stop to pick her up, a new driver didn't drop her off, she purposely stayed on the bus past her stop and they had to bring her back and once when she went off with the neighbors without telling me and we had everyone including her teacher out looking for her. I ended up following the bus to school in my car for three weeks before I finally felt secure.

But it wasn't fears of getting lost, or of not knowing what to do, where to sit, where to get on or off or any of the fears that crossed my mind that were bothering The Boy. He just didn't think he would know anyone on the bus and as he explained to me "Mom, I'm shy".

So when he saw the little boy next door waiting for the bus, that was it. Once this small and brave kindergartener who was a bus veteran agreed to take over the care of my second-grader, all fear vanished and I was told to leave the area.

The next day he refused to let my husband walk him to the bus stop, but I insisted that he remain at the end of the driveway to actually view him go aboard. I thought I was fairly calm, I didn't ask him to identify the vehicle. After all, I figured it's hard to miss the yellow monstrosity and so I decided against asking "are you sure it was the school bus?".

The Boy did call me on the cell from the bus on that first day. He was about 5 minutes into his trip and announced "I will take the bus again tomorrow". To my relief, he does still like to have someone in the background, slightly out of view but present because I need a witness that he actually got on the bus or I will be calling the school to check. This is day three now, and I have only done that once.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Warming Up to First Friday Artwalks

It's that time in New England when winter carefully creeps in, stealthily taking over from autumn. You can hear it in crispy brown leaves underfoot in the morning, see it in ever-waning light in the late afternoon and feel it in that subtle chill that surrounds you in the evening, making you not so much cold as just not-quite-warm. With Thanksgiving just past, there's a lot of winter yet ahead. Actually, there's nearly a month to go before Winter even officially starts, and then...well, it's no wonder so many flee to Florida for a few bone-warming weeks.

Here, in the state of the first Thanksgiving, there's a certain stoical acceptance and a feeling that if our pilgrim ancestors managed to make it through a harsh New England winter, then so can we. Of course, the truth is that most of them didn't make it that first winter, about half of them died. Even our belief that they were the first, great pioneers in America is slightly incorrect. The city of St. Augustine, Florida is much older than the Plymouth settlement, by more than 50 years. Of course, they had much better weather.

Although I primarily consider myself a writer, I have always wanted to try my hand at other art forms. Alas, despite dogged determination, I show no promise in my attempts at drawing, painting and other artistic endeavors. Regardless of what monstrosities I myself have produced, I will confess to being an art lover and believing I know good art from bad art. My tastes in art may not always be classical or even popular - it's more a matter of whether or not I am touched by the inner spark that urged the artist to create. That's why this event caught my attention. The First Friday Weekend Art Walk in St. Augustine, Florida. I wish they had something like this around here.

The First Friday Weekend Art Walk is a walking tour of art galleries that's held between 5pm and 9pm on the first Friday and Saturday of every month. They have twenty galleries participating in the St. Augustine Artwalk with art exhibits, music and entertainment. Trolleys and sightseeing trains offer free transportation to most of the galleries on the tour.

Of course, I am a stoical New England pioneer type. That means I mustn't consider running away in the dark depths of winter to a city of lights, music and art. I am just saying, that if you want to, it's okay. And if you see me there, let's do coffee.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Joy of Christmas Trees

When I moved away from home and began my new life as an apartment-dweller, I switched from having real Christmas trees to artificial ones. By this time, the miniature lights had become the popular fashion and so the larger, hotter and more dangerous 7 watt bulbs were out. Made of spage-age polymers first developed for use in space by NASA, the tree is more likely to melt into a great, green puddle than to go up in flames. That, together with the cooler lights, seemed to make the whole business slightly less worthy of emergency fire department visits when the tree stayed up too long following the big day. In fact, if I leave the tree up until March, what's the harm?

The delicate nature of a real tree demands that you do not purchase and set it up too many days before Christmas, or you risk a brown tree with razor-sharp needles that might poke Santa (express ticket to the naughty list) or give you a nasty tree-rash when you take it down. An artificial tree can be put up at anytime, but traditonally (my tradition) I think the weekend following Thanksgiving is soon enough. It seems appropriate as the day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, is the start of the holiday shopping season and also when Santa arrives in town at then end of our little holiday parade.

But this year, The Boy wanted the tree up even earlier. Judging his sense of restlessness and how unlikely it was that I would get any peace until it was up, I agreed to allow them to put up the tree on the weekend before Thanksgiving. This is the third year in a row that I have had little or nothing to do with putting up the tree. The Boy and The Girl do it all themselves. As The Boy gets older, it goes more smoothly. This year he didn't have to ask at all about the letters on the branches or which order they go in. He's even tall enough to help The Girl put up the lights. I am not even needed for my height anymore.

Of course, the tree doesn't have that elegant, coordinated, Tiffany look. There are no less than three different colors of tinsel garland and they are wrapped around the tree at various levels, so that it is red at the top third, then white, then gold, like a striped tree. They also insisted on having as many strings of lights flashing as they could find flasher bulbs for. My tree should come with a seizure warning, like the ones they put on video games. The ornaments are placed haphazardly and those favored by The Girl usually have a photo of her on them and are grouped at eye level on the front of the tree for maximum exposure.

But you know what? It's beautiful.

It's beautiful because they are so proud of it. It's beautiful because it has special meaning to them. It's beautiful because it's a product of their own creativity. It's beautiful because it represents sibling cooperation.

But mostly, it's beautiful because I didn't have to do it myself. It will become a lot less beautiful after Christmas. It's much harder to find good help to take it all down again.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Girl Who Cried Wolf

The Girl is home from school today. I had to say yes, because she is complaining of all the same symptoms I have been experiencing. If I am going to give myself the pampering I think I deserve when I am sick, then I can't deny her illness.

Although occasionally it is hard to know if The Girl is really sick, she has a flair for the dramatic. She may limp about for days after stubbing a toe - unless you catch her in an unguarded moment. As emergency medical attention is not always offered when she bumps an elbow, she will rig up a sling made out of a winter scarf or a long stocking. The effect of a pink sling with snowflakes and Santa on it may not be as devastating as she would like to believe.

I watched in amazement when, at 18 months of age, she alternately practiced laughing, smiling, looking surprised and looking sad in her crib mirror. I shook my head in disbelief when at 4 she told the pediatrician that her legs sometimes went into spasms and she couldn't walk. As the doctor and I both stared, wide-eyed, at her demonstration of a girl using those "sticks that help you walk", her objective suddenly became clear to me. "She's trying to score a pair of crutches", I explained to the baffled physician.

I have told her the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf many times but it hasn't made an impression. What good are stories with a moral if they aren't going to scare children? I think Hansel and Gretel would be a better choice. She might think twice about eating all the school snacks in one afternoon - after all, she might need them one day to find her way out of the woods.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What's in a Name?

Schools today look nothing like the schools I attended as a youngster. My elementary school was all dark wood interior, my mind's eye always sees it enshrouded in darkness. The classrooms were lighter, there were windows, but the main lobby and hallways were deeply-stained panels of a very ancient design. The stairs and bannister bore the same swirled moldings. The atmosphere was one of an old manor house in a horror movie.

The elementary school my son attends is decorated in bright primary colors. The floor is dotted with yellow, red and blue tiles placed here and there, somewhat haphazardly. There is light everywhere, the interior hallways are all brightly illuminated and those that encircle the building have windows all along the outside wall. Every door, wall and entranceway is decorated with the art of children. It is like a child's picture book.

And yet, there is still some vestigial rigidity in schools, even the brightly colored ones. For instance, The Boy has had little luck in convincing them to accept his new name. The Boy chooses new names often, he changes them the way some children change favorite cartoons.

We were shopping for refrigerators in Sears one evening when he suddenly decided we ought to call him "Harry". I had never considered Harry as a name for him before he was born but I had to admit that it certainly seemed to suit him and so I agreed to it straightaway. I wasn't as easy to convince when he changed his name to "Rico" a few months back, but once I told him it meant "rich" in Spanish, he was utterly delighted with his choice and there was no changing his mind.

We can't change his mind, but he often does and sometimes advises that I may still call him by his real name at home. He wants others to call him Rey Mysterio, but not his mom.

Oh yeah, that's his new name. Rey Mysterio. His best friend at school is a wrestling fan (more on my dismay about that at another time) and apparently Rey Mysterio is one of the top names in the wrestling book. We don't watch wrestling here, but his friends know all about it.

He insisted on having his new name written on a piece of paper to take to his teacher. Alas, the teacher told him that they can't call him Rey Mysterio in school, as he explained to me with a crestfallen face.

I don't relish calling him Rey Mysterio but I know the fad will last a few days only and he will be onto another name that he fancies more. I remember trying out names as a young girl, planning out what I would change it to when I went out on the stage. I think we all go through these phases, but in the end, most of us end up feeling most comfortable as ourselves.

Thank goodness. And no, I have no intention of telling him that Rey means "king" in Spanish. I want this to be a short phase.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sidewalk Dreams

A story in the news really caught my attention today, and not because it was shocking or grisly, it was just a little story about a little girl, drawing her dreams.

Natalie Shea is a first-grader in New York. At 6, her world is wide open, her dreams can be outrageous because childhood is the time for outrageous dreams and there is beauty to be found everywhere. Natalie is an artist.

Natalie shared her dreams with friends and neighbors by drawing a big blue flower in chalk on her front stoop. Her mother was understandably surprised when she received a notice informing her that she had 45 days to remove the "graffiti" or face a $300 fine. Some neighbor had complained.

At 6, Natalie showed she had more sense than the complaining grown-up who obviously has lost the ability to see the beauty around her.

"My mom got a ticket for graffiti, and it wasn't even graffiti," Natalie said. "It was art, very nice art."

Her mother didn't have to worry about the fine, because as the mean-spirited neighbor should have realized would happen, the chalk "graffiti" disappeared with the next rainstorm.

I have, on occasion, bought my children sidewalk chalk and I must admit, even helped them cover the driveway with drawings, sayings and (as the hippy in me came out) peace signs and words like "groovy". The sad thing is that I have also wondered if my landlord would come along and object because sometimes I wonder if he can see what is really drawn there.

It reminded me of a snatch of a song I wrote a long time ago, I may have been a teen at the time. It is only a snatch because for better or worse (probably better), I don't remember the rest of it.

When we were young
Our songs were unsung
And we wrote our secrets
on the sidewalk
But you know chalk
Doesn't last very long
and come the dawn
We'd lost ourselves in the pictures we'd drawn

I pity the neighbor whose sight is so shortened by time that he or she no longer remembers or understands the worlds contained in a child's chalk art. The world must be a bleak place indeed when you have given up on the dreams of the child you were.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Smile For The Camera - That way no one will recognize you

It's an important day for The Boy. Today is picture day at school. Time flies when you're stressed.

It seems that you just get all the supplies and wardrobe in order, work out the drop-off and pick-up schedules, remember which days are gym and require sneakers, which days are Library days so you can hunt down the borrowed book which is most likely residing under a bed or a couch cushion and as soon as you think you are ready to take one relaxed breath - it's picture day.

I can remember the long hours of thought and discussion that went into the choosing of an outfit for The Girl on picture day, but The Boy doesn't really seem to care. I think that's the best approach, anyway. Carefully planned color schemes to highlight their eyes and paying the extra fee for a custom background, retouching, framing and personalized monographing has not once proved to result in a better portrait. The color scheme you spent so much time choosing usually turns out to make the child look sallow or of alien origin, the strips on the shirt strobe, the carefully curled hair goes limp and ill-kempt and generally you get a very carefully planned and expensive fiasco. The best pictures happen when you missed reading that notice from school or your child used it to write out their birthday gift wish-list and you sent them to school looking just like themselves.

The Boy presents a few special problems of his own, I will admit. First, there's the haircut he gave himself just a few days before school started. This consisted of one very close chop just above the forehead, effectively removing any of that pesky hair that was falling into his face and annoying him, but also rendering a sort of swollen-brain syndrome look. The other scissor chops were placed in random spots on the sides and the back of his head. I made a valiant attempt to even it out as much as possible and it certainly helped to put a little gel on it and pretend he was supposed to look like a rock performer. It has grown a bit more, so I once again went at his head with scissors last night, leaving it all a bit more even, but definitely not stylish.

Then there are the photographic faces. He has two, and neither of them belong to him. As I sit here writing this I am looking at a picture taken by his teacher in class last year. He has both hands on his face pulling his skin and his eyelids in opposite directions. One eye appears to be rolled up into his head and the other is unnaturally wide open and staring. I know it's him because I recognize the Spiderman sweatshirt. His other photographic face is quite calm, studious and sweet. That's not him either.

In the end I settled for making sure he washed his face, brushed his teeth and wore clean clothes. I didn't tell him to smile or to sit still. I was afraid any sort of instructions might make the situation worse. I chose the plainest and cheapest of backgrounds and studiously avoided thinking about what color shirt would go best with it.

I have written out the hefty check to pay for these unseen portraits and await the resulting images with motherly pride and some well-learned trepidation. Oh, and The Girl? She's thirteen and believes that her mother is clueless so would never think of asking for my advice on her clothes and hair on picture day. Thank goodness. Teen attitude is good for something at least.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Life is a Puzzle

I have just finished my online jigsaw puzzle. Please give me a moment to congratulate myself. There, that should do it. Thank you. I won't be submitting my time or checking high scores because for me,it isn't about trying to be the fastest and the best. In fact, I don't think I could enjoy doing a jigsaw puzzle if the goal was to complete it blindingly fast, sliding pieces into place without error. A jigsaw is a slowly built masterpiece, a project, a hobby that both exercises the mind and soothes it at the same time, giving it a break from real world problems and replacing them with the problem of why this piece that has just the right tip of blue and stripe of white doesn't fit perfectly where it ought to. But jigsaws, like life, often don't make sense until you see the whole picture.

I learned to love jigsaw puzzles when I was a kid. On Sundays my parents would often travel to Maine or other parts equally distant to attend church or visit relatives and if we were lucky, my younger brother and I were allowed to stay home with the older siblings to watch over us. Often this privilege came with the obligation to clean the house, which we all happily agreed to. Surprisingly, we worked well together. Staying home meant no parental control over the stereo. The elder sister and brother took turns spinning records our parents would never allow to be played in their presence - The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys.

And when we were done scrubbing floors and folding laundry to our forbidden rock n' roll beats, my sister would spread a jigsaw puzzle across the dining room table. We could all sit and work on this wonder together. That was the time for my sister's quieter taste in music and we listened to Johnny Mathis , The Mama's and The Papa's and Neil Diamond. I learned the pleasure of the quiet pursuit of a dream - the dream pictured on the box. Many years later, when the elder siblings had grown and moved out, I could still be found on a winter's day, alone in my room with nothing but a stereo and a jigsaw puzzle.

Time moves on and life gets busy. A real jigsaw is large, takes up space and time and doesn't fit in. I have no extra table that can be devoted to such a project. Pieces are more than likely to go missing long before they are properly set into their places.

So, an online jigsaw puzzle has to do. They can be a pleasant way to while away time on the net but the experience is not complete. They lack that tactile pleasure, the fingering of a piece, the satisfaction of feeling it snap into the spot that your eye finally spied and that smug knowledge that your mental calculations of its parameters were unerring.

If you like jigsaw puzzles, there's a new one daily at and sometimes they can be nicely challenging, like the one that is in black and white and doesn't colorize until you fit the pieces into the right place. But, if you truly love jigsaw puzzles, I highly recommend a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle spread out over a dining room table, with music on the stereo and preferably an assortment of family and friends to sing along with you as you explore the mystery of its construction and the quiet pursuit of a dream.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Occasional Rant

Every news outlet is carrying the story: Prince William and his off-again, now on-again girlfriend, Kate Middleton, being chased by paparazzi just as the inquest into Princess Diana's death gets underway. A death that may be blamed in part on the relentless pursuit of the former royal by the paparazzi. But who is really to blame?

Skimming the headlines today I had to ask myself this question: Does the story make the news or does the news make the story? That is, are we reading the news or are we reading what the news media thinks we want to read?

As we hover our mouses over the page, scrolling past the stories of monks in peaceful protest being beated, tortured and killed and instead click on the video of Wills and Kate slipping into a black vehicle that will whisk them away into the night, who is deciding what is important? Make no mistake, the news media is a business and as such relies on advertising dollars - dollars that are commensurate with the audience that the page they are displayed on will bring in. That audience isn't some vast, nameless mass. It's you. It's me.

We bemoan the lack of good television and yet, they are only producing what they know we will watch. Our appetite for electronic voyeurism is never sated, so we have multiple Survivor-type series and Big Brother, talent shows and "real video", as well as endless spotlights on vapid celebrities of the entertainment world. It is the same on the internet. If we are really sick of hearing about Britney Spears, there is one solution. Don't click on that story about Spears just because they lure you in with headlines like "Brit's New Stripper Video". Vote with your click on the net, just as you vote via remote on your television.

Women complain that the media and the fashion industry serve up images of stick-thin models and air-brushed photos, presenting an ideal that the average woman can never attain. But we can't blame the media for these images, if we didn't want to see them then we would stop buying the magazines, watching the shows, reading the tabloids. Why is it that we never understand who is truly in power?

I keep writing about Dove, and their Real Women, Real Beauty campaign but I can't say enough good things about it. If you are fed up and sick of being compared to images of 12-year-old fashion models, then buy Dove products and support the campaign to use real women as role models for beauty and intelligence. Don't we believe that an intelligent woman can also be beautiful?

It isn't difficult to gather support for causes like global warming - people will quickly pledge to recycle their used paper napkins or some other equally ridiculous but symbolic gesture. Why can't we agree to improve the taste, intelligence, savvy and quality of our future society? Saving the earth will be of little use if our future belongs to a generation whose role-models are the cretins who appear on our TV screens and magazine covers.

We can do it. We can turn off "Dancing With the Stars" and watch PBS or the Discovery channel. We can walk past the tabloids on the newsstands and buy a copy of National Geographic. We can teach our children that character and integrity is more important than the opportune displaying of body parts - the recent hoopla over Vanessa Hudgens and the nude photos that she probably released herself just to increase her fame are a wonderful example of how not to behave. If we can take the right lessons to our children, can't we counteract the effects of the most superficial society in history?

I like to think we can.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Longest Road

I was reading a blog the other day that chronicled the life of a typical office worker. The description of the long and tedious commute, occasionally made even less enjoyable by bottlenecked traffic and obnoxious drivers, made me once again congratulate myself for working so close to home. It was only after I began to calculate the time this commuter spent getting to work in another city and the time it takes me to get to work in my own town that I realized something incredible. His trip was shorter.

How could someone travel from the suburbs to the city amidst rush hour morning traffic and still get there ahead of me when I have to travel only a few short miles across town? The answer is quite simple. He's not a mother.

With all the talk about the juggling acts of working mothers, balancing career with home life and children, no one ever discusses the amount of work a mother has to do just to leave the house and actually get to work. A mother doesn't just have to get herself ready in the morning. There are children to get out of bed and ready for school, arguments to be had over clothes and shoes and the possible necessity of jackets, hats and gloves. There are backpack inspections to confirm that they all have the necessary snacks, juice boxes and lunches packed as well as bathing suits for the YMCA, and in the case of The Boy, some comfort items from home - a deck of Pokemon cards or the interesting rock he found outside yesterday. Then pencil in about 10 minutes for them to search for some missing item, make one more bathroom stop and try in vain to fake illness so they can stay home. If you are well practiced, these maneuvers can be accomplished in about 30-45 minutes - unless they are cranky, then count on an hour. Unless I am cranky, then we go whether they are ready or not.

When The Boy was in daycare and The Girl attended grade school, I left the house a full hour before I had to be at work. I picked up a co-worker, drove to the other side of town to drop The Boy off at daycare, drove in a diagonal direction across town to drop The Girl off at school and then swung around to where I began to finally head for work. The trip to the office that was "just down the street" took me 55 minutes and I had traveled 14 miles.

I think before we start analyzing how tired working mothers are at the end of a long work day, we need to assess how tired they are when they arrive at work only to start their second job of the day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Mother's Music

My mother always sang. She sang while she washed the dishes. She sang while she scrubbed the toilet. She sang while she sorted dirty clothes or ironed clean ones. My mother, with her lovely voice, filled the house with snatches of music. I say snatches, because my mother never knew all the words to any song. The surprising thing is that she only sang hymns.

One of the things passed down from her mother's house to ours was a Methodist hymnal from the days when my grandmother attended said church. I am almost sure she came by the hymnal legitimately and hadn't just pinched it from the back of the pew.

So I am confident that my mother had heard and sung all of these hymns hundreds of times in her life and as she attended church regularly, she had weekly practice. Still she never seemed to know any more than snatches of them. Her versions of songs were usually one or two lines, occasionally punctuated with "da da da" or "dum dee dum" to take the place of missing lyrics.

What we didn't always realize as children was that in addition to using musical "fillers" my mother often changed the words to songs. More than once I heard a hymn sung in church that I thought I knew well after hearing it so many times at home only to find out that it bore little resemblance to the song I had learned.

I guess my mother just liked things her own way, and as she sang to the Lord, she sang what came from her heart and not what came from the hymnal. She wasn't concerned about the missing words, she sang the bits she thought were important.

Of course, to this day I find it hard to sing "The Old Rugged Cross" without doing it in her style.

"On a hill, da dee dum.
Stood an old la da dee.."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Self Discovery

I don't usually post blog quizzes (although occasionally I secretly take them). You know the ones I mean - "What Musical Instrument Are You?" "What's Your Alien Name?" or "What Personality Disorder Are You?" (I am afraid to take that one).

But this little color quiz is a nice change. Presented with a palette of muted and quiet colors, it asks you to choose your favorites and gives you a brief (and very unscientific) synopsis of your personality traits. The hard part was to choose just one as they are all so nice, but don't let anyone influence you.

Of course, I was enchanted with my first two choices:

Papaya - You are a great champion of the helpless and defender of the underdog (I loved that cartoon). You have an amazing ability to get things done, as well as to fix things (it would be nicer if things would stop breaking).

Jadeite - You love being involved with intellectual pursuits and want smart friends (although stupid friends make you look smarter). You are practical and reliable and need a great deal of security (well, if I am going to be reliable, then everyone else should be too).

I then went on to choose other colors, some of which I didn't like as well and interestingly, the descriptions got further and further from my true personality the further I got from my initial choices. However, as with most tests, none of the traits described were bad traits. No matter what color you choose, you are a great person, a great friend and an all-round decent human being.

So I went back and took the Personality Disorder Test. I was "a bit schizotypal..." Now, that sounds like me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Filling In The Spaces

From time to time, I like to keep up with the studies going on at universities and within the scientific community. I feel it is my civic duty to ensure that tax revenues and government grants are spent wisely.

Imagine my shock when I read that Bernard Engel, a professor at Purdue has produced a study showing that the country has too many parking spaces. My first thought was "sure, when's the last time you went shopping?" but I decided to read further, my interest piqued by his claim that parking spaces outnumbered drivers 3 to 1.

Naturally, his two extra parking spaces are out in the Midwest, where they just naturally have a greater expanse of land on which to lay asphalt. But it was this reasoning that really had me scratching my chin.

“The problem with parking lots is that they accumulate a lot of pollutants - oil, grease, heavy metals and sediment - that cannot be absorbed by the impervious surface,” Engel said. “Rain then flushes these contaminants into rivers and lakes.”

If only one in three parking spaces is occupied by a car, then I can't see how having a larger parking lot contributes more pollutants. The only oil, engine grease and other nasty chemical solutions that will leak onto that parking lot will come from that one car, not from the two empty spaces beside it.

Here where I live, I can guarantee you there are not too many parking spaces, in fact, every parking lot is designed to have at least 20 fewer parking spaces than the actual expected number of customers per day. This is to give the impression that this is a very popular place to shop, and it is well worth driving around the lot a few dozen times, following people leaving the stores to their parking spaces so that you too, can shop here.

And all the time these cars are driving around, they are spewing more pollutants into the air and possibly posing a mortal danger to the occupants of the car that just beat me to that space I had my eye on. Well, maybe I wouldn't really run them down.

Maybe they have extra spaces in Tippecanoe county because they are expecting a lot of cars to drive in from other states, having heard how nice and spacious the parking lots are.

Engel's point I guess is that this land space could be used for something else, but he doesn't say exactly what. Few people want to build their houses in the parking lot of the mall.

Honestly, if it wasn't for the thrill of victory when after circling the lot for 20 minutes I find the perfect space just two away from the front of the store, I wouldn't even go shopping, I would just order everything online. But there's something very satisfying about pulling in just ahead of that sleek, shiny new sportscar and taking the space they just zoomed over from the next aisle for. Finding a parking space is an activity that requires concentration, strategy, nerves of steel and lightning reflexes.

Plus, it's kind of fun.


Friday, September 14, 2007

I'm Batman

A study at Waterloo University that explored children's storytelling abilities has shown that pre-schoolers are able to immerse themselves into the minds, thoughts and perspectives of a storybook character. I was already well aware of this stunning ability.

During my son's entire enrollment at preschool he had a Batman fixation. He was only interested in toys if they had something to do with Batman. His desire for Batman action figures knew no bounds, and I was dismayed to find that one Batman would not suffice. Batman was no longer the predominantly black and purple caped crusader of my childhood, he came in many different outfits in every color imaginable.

Oh, and every Batman had his own accessories. A green and yellow suited Batman might have a long string with a grappling hook. Other strangely-appareled versions could have boomerangs or rocket launchers. The more strings that were attached and the more tiny missiles it could fire, the better he liked it because it made the toys much more dangerous to innocent family members who might get reeled in by a bat-hook.

You rarely got any intelligible conversation out of the Boy, most discussions ended with him simply stating "I'm Batman", an answer he seemed to think answered all questions. I was used to a lot of attention at the grocery store, as The Boy stood proudly in the cart with a towel tied around his shoulders, announcing to other shoppers "I'm Batman". They were usually quite impressed, and I achieved the rare status of being the mother of a superhero.

But it wasn't until the Christmas party at his preschool that I understood the origin of the Batman obsession. He had a particular friend who was his entire preschool world. For the party, all the parents had purchased gifts to be wrapped and given to Santa to hand out to the children. Of course, The Boy's gift was something Batman-ish. Soon after we arrived, his little chum walked in, dressed in full Batman costume. A novel sight for a Christmas party, I thought. "He won't take it off", his mother complained. Oh, how I knew her pain.

What I didn't know until the Boy and his cohort had scrounged around the hidden recesses of the pre-school, was that in the dress-up box there was a Batman cape with hooded mask attached. The Boy emerged with the cape and kept it on for the entire event, even when he sat on Santa's lap. Santa, of course, already knew that he was Batman (Santa knows everything) and The Boy was quite happy to be recognized. Later, one of his teachers revealed to me that they often had to hide the cape, or my son would wear it all day, every day.

So it was no surprise to me to find that young children can become completely immersed in a storybook character. They didn't need a university study to prove that. What would be more useful to parents is if they did a study on how to get them out of the Batman costume.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Little Boy Love

It's easy as a working mother to get caught up in the stresses of daily life, the schedules, the necessities of the moment - kids and school, mealtimes, worktimes. At times, you forget the wonderful things, the sweet joy that children can bring.

I was wandering through some earlier writings, some of which are on another blog I had started years ago and I found this story. It reminded me that the big 2nd grader who lay across my lap this morning while waiting for his ride to school, was once the little boy whose entire world was his mother. As daunting a responsibility as it can be to fulfill the role of "the world" to another human being, it is also very heart-satisfying. And so I am re-printing this story here, cause it brought a smile to my face this morning. It was called "The Appeal of Younger Men".

They strolled through the store, occasionally plucking a wanted item from a shelf and placing it in their cart.They chattered constantly in a happy banter, punctuated occasionally by lighthearted laughter. A white-haired woman leaning on her cart giggled slyly as she watched the young man reach out and take his love's hand.

He held it up to his cheek, guided its caress, his eyes closed, experiencing only the warmth of her touch, whispering a gentle "I love you". She drew closer to him, her lips grazed the hand that held hers. "I love you too". He was obviously so young, his face smooth and open with expectation . Her face wore a look of experience but her eyes shone with the love and purpose he had created within her. The elderly woman smiled as their carts passed, gave them a knowing wink as she remembered a life long gone by.

The scene was repeated throughout the store, young love demanding sometimes a hug, at times stealing a kiss. They were no different than other twosomes; perhaps it was his eyes and smile that drew attention to them, for he was beautiful in every way. She knew some envied her his ardor.

Shopping done, they retreated to their car. As she drove, his voice called from the back seat.

"Mom, can I kiss your hand"? She laughed and extended her right arm behind her. "Here, have at it". "Mom, you're so beautiful", he said as he kissed the hand she had given him. She glanced at the five year old in the back seat and thought "That kid is so smooth, gonna have to watch him when he grows up".

Sunday, September 9, 2007

My Mother Should Have Been a Writer.

I was clicking through a friend's blogroll and came upon this blog. The first post I read was about working amidst chaos and it really rang a bell with me, but even more so did the Word of the Day, " rapscallion".

Rapscallion was one of my mother's favorite words and she had many. Her daily speech held words that deliciously filled the mouth with rich vowels and muted dipthongs and bold words that employed teeth, tongue and lips to give them full effect. Just say "rapscallion" and tell me you don't like the feel of it as it escapes from the mouth to be sounded. Now, say it louder, as a chastisement. Perfect, isn't it? I must remember to say it to The Boy the next time he is mischievous.

My mother didn't always use words strictly according to definition. Sometimes she went for texture and effect over meaning. My mother probably should have been a writer, but I don't think she was ever encouraged in creative areas. However, she was a wonderful storyteller. I wish that I could remember enough details from her childhood stories to write them all down. They were stories that were full of childhood mischief and peppered with colorful phrases never heard outside her family.

I wonder now if her surviving younger sister would know some of these stories. I know she would tell them in the same downeast Maine accent and excited tone. Now I have a project. Thanks for that Word of the Day, Easy-Writer.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Why Dusting is Dangerous

Sometimes I think I far exceed my mother in housekeeping skills, at other times I think I am just the next-generation pack rat. Although I occasionally get inspired to finally throw away something that has been kicking around the house unused and unwanted for years, it is never anything from my mother's house. Those little knick knacks, however tacky or incongruent with my color schemes, mean much more to me than tasteful objets d'art or color-coordinated art posters designed to "tie it all in". My decor is definitely not like that, it's the most un-tied interior non-design you will ever see.

One item I cherished, although it had no place to call its own, was one of two decorative hand-painted plates, graced by red and purple grapes on one and a pineapple and some other unidentifiable but equally textured fruit on the other. My mother had bought these stunning works of art and hung them on her kitchen wall. And they hung there unmolested for a very long time. That is, no one cleaned or dusted them, they just became a way of measuring the passing of time by the inches of sediment.

One night, as my mother talked long distance on the phone to her sister, she got one of those occasional inspired urges to dust the plates. For reasons no one ever understood, at half-past midnight my mother suddenly couldn't stand the dust that accumulated on those decorative plates any longer. So with the phone in one hand and a dustrag in the other, she set about clearing the dust and cobwebs from the pineapple.

My mother had recently installed a ceramic tile floor, or rather my brother had done it for her (she complained bitterly about the hard nature of the tile for years). Anything that left your hand, was pretty much destroyed once it hit that floor.

My mother dropped that pineapple plate and it split into three pieces upon contact with the tile, bounced up and a knife-shaped shard sliced up her calf on it's way back towards the wall . I don't think she even felt it and there was no blood at all, the wound was so neatly cut. But as I came to examine it, I cautioned her against twisting around to see the back of her leg, for several layers were sliced through and it looked more like something you would see at the butcher's shop than a calf. Instead I encouraged her to go to the Emergency Room with as much calm urgency as I could manage.

Several stitches and a few weeks time healed the leg wound. The empty wire plate holder still hung on the wall next to its twin, which still held grapes securely in place. Many more years would pass before the application of new wallpaper necessitated the removal of the two fixtures.

I still have the grape plate, although it suffered a similar fate as the pineapple by falling to the floor. It only got chipped but enough so that it isn't suitable for display. Some would say, thank goodness, as it wasn't very attractive. But I keep the plate because it will always remind me of my mother, her aspirations to cleanliness and her complete acceptance of her failure to achieve it.

Or maybe, I just want an excuse not to dust.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Skinny on Genes and Fruit Flies

I read today about a study at UT Southwestern Medical Center. The researchers there claim to have found the "skinny" gene. I was thinking - they could look through my entire DNA closet and not find one pair of skinny genes. But apparently, they have discovered what makes the body decide to accumulate fat or burn it off. What's more they claim to have isolated this gene they call adipose and can switch it on and off.

In fruit flies. They can switch it on and off in fruit flies. Okay, I have had my bouts with fruit fly infestations (there were some questionably brown bananas that sat a bit too long). Fruit flies live on and on regardless of how many you kill and months later you still find them in the strangest places, like the bathroom. After having personally disposed of several colonies consisting of thousands of fruit flies, I can say without fear of being contradicted, that I have never, ever seen a fat fruit fly and I don't know of anyone who has. A fruit fly is a tiny little pest who can slip through the teensiest gap between the fingers of hands that are clapped together to kill it.

But anyway, back to the study. According to the report, the idea is that only some of the individuals of a species have the adipose gene and others don't. This way, it ensures the survival of at least some of the species in case of hard times or natural disaster. Fat specimens survive famine, skinny ones get modeling contracts.

There was nothing in the article that promised they could or would locate this gene for overweight people and switch it off. I don't know if this is even the point - some of these researchers are just curious little people who need to know everything but aren't necessarily interested in doing anything about it.

However, someday, when the Designer Gene Shop opens up next to the storefront Botox place, I will definitely know what kind of gift certificate the kids should get me for my birthday.

Monday, September 3, 2007

How To Be a Slacker Prepared

The countdown to school begins. We now have less than 48 hours to the first day of school and preparations are proceeding at a fevered pitch.

The Girl has started out well. She is organizing all her notebooks and folders well ahead of time, even preparing labels for each section of her mega-binder so that all homework and class worksheets can be placed in their rightful category. To watch her, one can't help but be impressed with her organizational skills and her responsible approach to schoolwork.

However, school often starts this way. It doesn't take long to degenerate into a mad search in the evening for the math worksheet and hastily placed phone calls to classmates wondering if they know which words she is supposed to study for the vocabulary quiz. I have had teachers tell me of homework that arrives crumpled with chocolate fingerprints and other,less easily identified stains. Other work may still be damp from having been placed under her wet bathing suit in her backpack. Books needed at school are left at home, books needed for homework are left at school. Miscellaneous items are scattered throughout the cars and homes of relatives and friends. The urgent plea to buy her an item needed for a project due on Friday is usually made on Thursday night.

Yes, The Girl is organizationally challenged, suffering from impaired preparatory skills, lacking sufficient organization motivation. In other words, she's a little lazy.

I can understand this, as I was the child who did homework in front of the TV and wrote five page reports the day before they were due. The difference is, that I got away with it. If you are going to be lazy and unorganized, it's imperative that you turn in what appears to be a well thought out paper, a report full of references or at the very least, pass the pop quiz. These are the real skills that she is lacking. It's hard work to be prepared, but if you are going to be a slacker, then you need to learn how to deliver the goods under pressure and at the last minute.

I think a lot of this is dependent on maturity. This is the child that didn't like first grade because they didn't play as many games as in kindergarten. If you find first grade to be grueling, then middle school is bound to be like being taken from a warm, comfortable bed and dunked into a tub of ice water. But as she grew to accept that first grade was about learning and not about socializing and fun, so she will accept that middle school is about responsibility and preparing for the future. It just might take some time.

At least that's going to be my line when I get to the first parent/teacher conference. I hope they buy it.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Blogging is for the Birds

The ways of blogging may often seem strange and mysterious, especially to new bloggers seeking traffic, popularity and fame. Oh sure, there are plenty of websites that give advice on how to increase your traffic, how to get links and page rank, but in my experience I have found that it's the oddest and quirkiest things that will generate the traffic that you never expected.

I have another blog, Nedfulthings, that I created a few years ago and filled mostly with creative writing, along with the occasional story of the type I write here. My regular visitors consisted mostly of other writers and poets - they did, that is, until one fateful post.

On November 5, 2005, I wrote a post called Bird Omens. It was a little story about a true occurrence, a bird that had flown into a mirrored window. The incident gave me cause to reflect on the meanings we give everyday events and what they may show us about how we are navigating the course of our lives. Naturally, I gave a brief dissertation on what my mother had told me about bird omens (my mother had something to say about everything).

I only recently returned to that blog after an absence of about a year. Much to my surprise, traffic is still pretty high on that blog, especially considering the fact that it lay dormant for so long. But what surprised me most of all was that most of the hits, every day without fail, are on my nearly two-year-old post about that dazed bird. The number of Google searches for "bird omens" and "birds flying into windows" is amazing.

So my advice to anyone looking to build traffic is simple. Write on any topic you like... just make sure that somewhere in the course of your article, a bird smacks itself into a window.

Read Bird Omens

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Boy and The Crab

It's something we all felt as children, that indescribable need to explore nature's wonders, to examine the intricate and interwoven patterns of life on earth, to learn more about other creatures with whom we share our planet.

Of course, it usually took the form of a couple of grasshoppers that we shared the back yard with and put in a glass jar.

I have been horrified a few times lately by The Boy and his incessant need to capture living things and keep them as pets. He has brought home frogs in his lunch box, snails in a paper cup, and inchworms in a pencil case (I won't discuss the dead goldfish in his pocket).

As he slumbers in the next room, a small plastic fish tank holds a few inches of sand and water and a hermit crab, stolen away from his marine home at low tide on some unknown beach.

This crab is one of a gift of two from a friend who apparently spent the day at the beach collecting all sorts of defenseless marine animals and placing them in a bucket for transportation home. Over the course of the evening this crab became the sole occupant of the tank after said friend pulled the other hermit crab out of his shell, because she felt it was too small for it. Of course, in the process she killed it.
I detected no remorse.

And that's the problem. Where does empathy begin? Do we live in some state of blind selfishness and then one day, at some point in our lives suddenly realize that it's wrong to keep grasshoppers in a jar? At what point do we start to assign to other creatures a right to life?

Okay, I will admit it's not easy with insects. Most of the insects we come into contact with daily are annoyances or worse. Everyone will swat a mosquito without a moment's hesitation.

But I don't want The Boy to grow up heartless when it comes to creatures who can easily be put at his mercy. Yes, that is what I want. A feeling of mercy, empathy, some recognition that his need to experience is second to another's right to live unmolested by little boys' hands.

Maybe I should just get him a dog. A big one.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Don't Tell Me to Have a Nice Day!

I had to bite the bullet and go to the grocery store today. Somewhere in my book of parenting rules, it says I should feed my family. Honestly, I hate the trip to the supermarket and today it appealed even less than usual because I have some quirky injury to my right leg. I wasn't actually sure I could manage to shop, even with the help of the shopping trolley to hold onto, but my sister was going and I had to take the ride when I could get it as driving is out of the question until my leg heals.

Right down the street from me is a store that has a huge selection, a bakery with the most delectable cakes, pastries and fresh-from-the-oven bread, and also boasts the lowest prices in town. It has too much of one thing, though. Customers. I swear everyone within a ten-mile radius shops at this store.

The parking lot is jam- packed a full 20 minutes before they open each day and each night there are customers still rolling their shopping carts down aisles for just a few more items as the voice on the loudspeaker urges them to cash out as it's closing time.

I could only get a few items, I couldn't walk or stand up long enough to get too many. I forgot to get some bottled water and made the selfish decision to forego walking back three aisles for it. "Let them drink tap water", I grumbled. I ended up with some absolutely necessary items (chips and soda) and a few meals worth of food. Not too many items but more than the 12-item limit at the express line. Did I mention that I am so stupidly honest that I wouldn't ever think of getting into the express line with more than 12 items?

The rule goes like this: "If you pick the shortest line, you will wait the longest to be served". This rule holds true in every store and fast food restaurant in the world and the wait time is doubled at any customer service counter.

The guy in line ahead of me glanced at me sideways once or twice. I could see him weighing his options as he noticed that I was devolving into a creature that could no longer stand erect. In fact, I was losing height by the minute as my legs gave way little by little. I didn't have very many items, but then neither did he - in fact, he could have slipped through the express check-out unnoticed. But he chose to stand his place, after all, he was next. Ha! we soon saw how little good that did him.

The woman who was currently being checked out had an amazing array of groceries and although the cashier at this line wasn't going to win any prizes for speed, the tallying of the bill was not going too slowly. That's when I saw them.


The woman had a fistful of 'em. The cashier sorted through and tried to scan them. The very first one she tried refused to be counted no matter how many attempts she made or what mysterious codes she entered into the register. Finally, in desperation she called over a supervisor who unlocked the baffled register with a key and entered the secret code that means "I am a manager, reset yourself". During this time, the woman had pulled out checkbook and pen, written everything on the check but the total, applied her lipstick and combed her hair. I was turning into a sideshow freak and she was fixing her makeup! The poor cashier had to call the supervisor over three more times to assert authority over the cash register and override the fact that one of the coupons wasn't for anything this women had purchased. By this time, even the store just wanted her gone and to accomplish it, they gave her 35 cents off.

When I finally got to the register, with my unglamorous and full-price cartload, I was completely unable to return the weak smile of the harried girl running the register. She mumbled something at me in a quiet and meek voice. "What?" I nearly shouted, in a slightly too startled voice, as if I had been awoken from an engrossing dream. "How are you today?" she asked in the store-prescribed manner.

I am ashamed to say, I told her exactly how I was.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ben Franklin Never Had a Mom

The sun is shining brightly outside my window, so brightly in fact, that it's hard to see the computer monitor. Whoever would have thought that I would come to prefer dim rooms with little light for the sake of reading words from a little screen?

Despite the bright sunshine the weather forecast promises thunderstorms. Now thunderstorms are the bane of the computer addict - close and severe storms mean powering down to protect your machine. Separation anxiety can overcome you within minutes.

But thunderstorms are greeted in my house with as little fanfare as possible. I don't want to have the children overly-anxious about lightning as I was when I was a child. A healthy respect for its power and the dangers it possesses is fine, but my mother knew how to instill deep and lasting fear.

Most people know how to avoid the most obvious dangers during a thunderstorm - turn off the computer, maybe turn off the TV, don't talk on the cordless phone, don't take a bath. Don't try to emulate Benjamin Franklin's lightning rod experiments. But my mother had much more detailed rules.

Windows all had to be closed. No one was allowed near windows or doors. We weren't allowed to tread upon the carpet as it might contain wool fibers, and she was convinced that wool was a great conductor of electricity. For similar reasons, we weren't allowed to pet the dog, not even if she was dry. She felt that dog hair was probably as good a conductor of electricity as the carpet. So we were a family of 5 sitting on the couch with our legs crossed under us, yelling furiously at the dog to go out to the kitchen until such time as the storm had passed.

They say the odds of getting struck by lightning are about one in nine million. Strangely, although I don't know nearly nine million people, I personally know three who have been struck by lightning. None of them were walking on the carpet or petting the dog.

My rules for thunderstorms are a little more lax than my mother's. No playing outside in the rain when there's lightning, no holding steel rods out the windows. You can watch TV if you sit on a chair a good distance from it until the power cuts out. If there is more than one crack of lightning in a row that sounds like it just blew up your garage, it's probably best not to sit too close to an open window. If the power goes out, only the mother can light the candles and no, you can't take one to bed with you.

The truth of the matter is, if you don't do anything really stupid, the chances of being struck by lightning are one in nine million. Let's face it, if it's gonna get you, it's gonna get you. Might as well watch the end of American Idol.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Where's My Febreeze?

The Boy has an embarrassing social problem. It's become so bad that even he is aware of it. There are times he doesn't want to be in the same room with himself. Not to be too delicate about it, basically, The Boy's feet stink!

And I mean stink. This is no slight sweaty gym sock scent but full-out nostril-searing stench. I have tried to fix the problem in any way I can think of. We have washed his sneakers, washed his feet in fragranced soap, creamed and powdered them. But the smell lives on.

He's far too active riding his bike, skateboarding and just generally doing boy things to wear sandals. He nearly lost a toe that way. I have just scrubbed the feet clean and applied sweet-smelling lotion. I am washing the sneakers right now. I am waiting until the very last second before I buy him a new pair of shoes for school or they too, will suffer the summer stink.

That's the problem. It's summer. His feet just excrete sweat madly during hot weather. What's worse is that even though he leaves for summer camp with clean socks on, he comes back without them every day. His feet swelter and sweat inside those sneakers and the result is that when he takes his shoes off in a room full of people, it is like employing biological warfare.

I don't think I can put off buying new shoes much longer. School is still two weeks away and any minute now I expect the haz-mat team to show up in my driveway.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

High School Musical 2

Well, it finally arrived. The premiere night of Disney's High School Musical 2. I am glad if only because it means that I won't have to endure yet another showing of High School Musical 1. The Girl is a brand-new teen, having reached that distinction only a couple of months ago. The Boy just wants to dance like Corbin Bleu. They are both totally entranced by this offering from Disney. One of the few things they both like equally.

It's great in a way. Although I tire of the constantly blaring soundtrack, at least it's a Disney musical featuring real kids in a real situation instead of cartoon mermaids and princesses. It's nice to see musicals make a comeback, and for Tweens and Teens no less.

Some of their friends were attending High School Musical 2 parties, where a group of kids got together to watch. I wish I had thought of that, The Girl would have idolized me for years. Unfortunately, I didn't think of it and it probably wouldn't have been much of a draw: "Come watch the premiere of the most anticipated new movie in years on a 20 inch TV screen!"

Ah well, I will find ways to be a good mother about it. We'll buy the soundtrack, download the lyrics, read about it, talk about it and watch it until the tubes in the television fizzle out. By that time there will be a whole new crop of Disney teen stars (teen stars tend to grow up and need replacing often) and The Girl will be too old and cool to care about Disney anymore.

That sounds nice, but it's what comes next that worries me. I think I would rather listen to High School Musical 1 and 2 soundtracks for as long as possible if I can stave off the more serious problems of teenhood: dating, drugs, etc.

Let's sing: "We're all in this together..."

What's in a Name?

The way I see it, my kids are lucky I am a nobody. As much as they wish their mother was rich and famous, a fabulous film or TV star, they are much better off with boring, old me.

If you are born to a celebrity these days, you could end up with a name like Pilot Inspektor, Jason Lee's son's name. You'd think it was a good thing to be Nicholas Cage's kid, but you'd have to go through life with a name from the planet Krypton. He named his kid Kal-El, Superman's real name. Can you imagine going through life with a name like the one Shannyn Sossamon bestowed on her child? How do you work up the guts to introduce yourself as Audio Science?

Compared to these, Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin calling their daughter Apple seems normal and commonplace.

Okay, so The Boy and The Girl don't have exciting, exotic names and we're not invited to exclusive New York society parties. The limo is a little smaller than standard with a few dings and dents. There's no chauffeur but me, and a trip to a fancy restaurant means that we went to the new McDonalds with the sports decor.

But at least when they tell someone their name, they don't have to listen to a lot of giggling.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

There Goes the Bride - Again

The Boy was 6 when he walked into the kitchen one day and said to me "Mom, I like girls". It was very matter-of-fact. I nodded, a little short on words since I didn't know if this was just a declaration or the beginning of one of "those" chats. I simply said "That's good, glad to hear it".

Now there's no doubt he's a handsome little thing with a shock of dark blonde hair that glistens with natural streaks of gold, big blue eyes and a winning smile. But The Boy is only 7 and he's been engaged twice and married once.

Oh yeah, he got married. His first fiancé, who is 8 years old, moved to another town and he was quite distressed at first. But it didn't take him long to replace her with a new neighbor who is also 8. The kid's got a thing for older women.

The wedding was sprung on me without advance warning. The Girl got busy making cupcakes for the occasion, filled the house with stuffed animal guests and they all got dressed up. The Boy wore a shirt and tie - he knows how to impress a lady. I was commissioned to play the wedding march on the keyboard and they marched through the house to a lovely outdoor ceremony after which they were taken away in a red wagon. It was a lovely wedding.

Now the wife is moving across town, and will be attending a different school. At 7 and 8, I don't think long-distance relationships survive very long. I don't think I will survive if I am called upon to transport him daily to visit her.

On the other hand, I don't think I am ready for yet another engagement or a second marriage. Besides, who will get custody of the wagon?