My Shopping Fantasy

Years ago when I had four small children I used to dream about a time when I could easily take all of them out with me—to the grocery store, the post office, the bank. They would be old enough, I thought, to follow directions, wait patiently for a few minutes while I conducted my business, and not beg constantly to have things bought for them.

My youngest child is now 8, and I’m still waiting for this.

I have heard taking a toddler to the grocery store compared to the experience of taking a herd of goats with you. While taking older children is easier in some ways, in some ways it’s just as challenging. Instead of trying to keep them rounded up, you’re trying to get through the store while they pretend the cart is their Siamese twin. It’s more like taking along a very old, mostly blind dog who refuses to leave your side, while it constantly asks for everything on the shelves.

Older children seem to have an uncanny ability to walk directly in front of your cart as you try to push it along. And like tourists in the Piazza San Marco, they tend to stop every twenty feet in front of something that catches their eye so they can inspect it. You find yourself not only dodging other shoppers, but constantly telling your offspring to “MOVE!” giving a trip to the market the feeling of navigating a carnival midway on demolition derby night, only without the games and funnel cakes.

Once you get to checkout things don’t necessarily improve. They’re still in front of the cart, and don’t seem to realize that in order for the transaction to be completed, you, the holder of the credit card, need to be able to get to the payment station. Not just be able to push the cart all the way through the checkout, although that is necessary, but actually reach the card reader without a four foot tall impediment between you and it. It’s gotten so bad with my kids that I’ve started telling them that if they don’t get out of the way, I’m taking the cost of the groceries out of their savings accounts. Unless you’re paying, move it, kid.

Another phenomenon that baffles me is when it became impossible to run an errand without them acquiring something. There is no destination, no retail or service establishment, at which my children don’t expect to get some kind of thing. The bank, the dry cleaner, the post office—we can’t get out of any of them without some financial transaction, however small, that awards them with a gumball,  or even just a mint. Lord help us if we go to a real store, because then the expectation is something of significance—a toy, a stuffed animal, a cookie.

As a child I can remember getting a lollypop at the bank, but it seems that my children hear the jingle of car keys and start trying to decide which unfulfilled material dream will be realized on this excursion. We can’t set foot out of the house without the expectation that we will return richer in goods than when we left. When they were smaller I could deflect this, telling them we needed to stick to our list, or that I had no change. Now that they’re older, they understand how these processes work, and that most of the time my denial to acquiesce to their wish is because clearly I’m just mean.

I’m still waiting for that magic moment when I can go to the store and have it be easy. In my fantasy I’ll be able to transact my business without anyone whining for a quarter to buy a gumball, or nag me for some four dollar and ninety nine cent wad of synthetic with enormous black plastic doe eyes. I’ll be able to reach the payment terminal without obstruction. I’ll be able to push the grocery cart up and down the aisles without an extra 65 pounds of weight hanging off one side. I guess in my fantasy, my kids all wanted to stay home while I ran errands.

New Year's Resolutions for My Children: An Alphabetical List

Although it’s not quite Christmas, many are already engaged in the annual task of making New Year’s Resolutions with an eye toward improving themselves in the coming months. In the spirit of this, I am providing an alphabetical list of possible resolutions for my children. I would encourage them to choose any and all that sound appealing.

Attitude is something I will attempt to control when interacting with my parents. I will not sigh loudly, roll my eyes, or make flip comments when asked to do simple tasks that I know are my responsibility, such as hanging up my jacket.

Brushing my teeth promotes good oral hygiene and saves the rest of the world from exposure to breath that smells like I’ve been snacking on rotten meat with onion and garlic sauce.

Cupcakes, while delicious, are not the only acceptable treat for me to bring in to my classmates for my birthday. I will think outside the box in this regard.

“Doy is not an acceptable response when my parents tell me something I already know.

“EVER! is a superlative that I will use with restraint, particularly in negative applications, such as, “You are the WORST MOM EVER!”

Fart noises (either real or imitated), while hilarious to me and my friends, are not generally socially acceptable, particularly in settings such as movie theaters, public transportation, and church.

Garbage is something that belongs in the garbage can. The living room end tables are not garbage cans. I will internalize this fact.

Homework is going to be a feature in my life for the next six to ten years. I will accept this and stop arguing with my parents because they insist I do it.

Independence is something I will earn as I get older. I will stop acting like a four year old because I am not being treated like a sixteen year old, because I am a twelve year old.

Kicking anything inside the house--be it a balloon, a ball, or any other object--has the potential to turn out very badly. I will stop at once.

Lollipops are in fact, overrated. I will admit that my mother was right about this, and stop demanding them every time we find ourselves within a quarter of a mile of our bank.

Minecraft, although fascinating to me, may not be equally as fascinating to those around me. Therefore, I will make an effort to confine my conversations about it to 12 hours per day or fewer.

No is a word I will learn to take for an answer.

Odor of the body is something that is eliminated only with regular use of soap and water. I will put this into practice, and realize deodorant can only do so much.

P is a letter of the alphabet, the sound of which does in fact mimic the slang term for urination. Even still, I will stop giggling every time I hear it.

Quickly is the manner in which I will endeavor to prepare myself for activities that involve a fixed timeline, such as dressing for school.

Reason and logic will serve me better than whining. However, sometimes my requests will still be denied. If so, I will learn to accept the decision gracefully (see above: No).

Socks are either to be removed completely, or worn with shoes over them when wandering around in the yard. Also, they do not belong on the coffee table. I will remember this.

Tantrums are for children much younger than I.

Umbrellas and flashlights really aren’t toys. I will stop destroying umbrellas, and running down the batteries on flashlights, by playing with them. Then the next time it rains, or there is a power failure, my parents will have the tools they need to deal with the situation.

Video games, while enjoyable, are not the only activity available to me. I will find ways to branch out.

Water is an acceptable beverage to consume when I am thirsty. I will stop insisting that soda is “the only thing” that will quench my thirst.

X marks the spot where my dirty clothes go. There is no “X” on the floor of my room.

“Yellow snowjokes are really only funny the first time they’re made, when one is five. I will stop at once.

Zipping my coat will keep me warmer than not doing so.

Happy Holidays!

Selective Hearing

What I say: “Go get dressed. Be sure to change your underwear, and brush your teeth.”
What they hear: “Run around in your underwear screaming like a lunatic, punching your brother repeatedly.”

What I say: “It’s almost time for dinner.”
What they hear: “It’s time for another four cheese sticks.”

What I say: “Be sure to take all your stuff out of the car into the house.”
What they hear: “The car is a great place for the backpack you’ll need to take with you on the school bus tomorrow morning.”

What I say: “Put the remote back on the shelf so we can find it.”
What they hear: “Shove the remote down in the couch cushions so your father and I can spend half of the little time we have to watch TV after you go to bed hunting for it.”

What I say: “Take this upstairs and put it in your room.”
What they hear: “Go up to the fifth step from the top and toss this on the floor above you.”

What I say: “Stop whining.”
What they hear: “Can you go up an octave?”

What I say: “Put your clothes in the hamper in the laundry room so they can get washed.”
What they hear: “Clean clothes are overrated.”

What I say: “Don’t blow that straw wrapper at your brother”
What they hear: “Bet you can’t nail him in the eye with that.”

What I say: “Time to take a bath.”
What they hear: “Time to take off all your clothes and dance around in the hallway like a stripper in front of a customer waving a hundred dollar bill.”

What I say: “Take those cheese stick wrappers to the trash can.”
What they hear: “Take those cheese stick wrappers into the kitchen and leave them on the counter.”

What I say: “Keep your hands to yourself!”
What they hear: “Humans thrive on physical contact.”

What I say: “Hang up your coat and backpack.”
What they hear: “Those hooks are very fragile—stay away from them.”

What I say: “Pick up your room.”
What they hear: “Shove everything on the floor under the bed and spend 45 minutes screwing around in your room.”

What I say: “Time to do your reading.”
What they hear: “Time to come up with two hundred new names to call your brother, all of which must include the word ‘butt’ in some way.”

What I say: “Stop yelling!”
What they hear: “I’ve been in louder sensory deprivation chambers. You’re going to have to do better than that.”

What I say: “Pick up your socks!”
What they hear: “…”

Traditions of the Present

After Monday’s sad trombone about my childhood non-belief in Santa Claus, I was thinking about other Christmas-related events from my childhood. Prompted by one of those seasonal articles like, “One Hundred Holiday Traditions to Start This Year!” in some magazine I was thinking about traditions I’ve been exposed to in the course of my lifetime. One area that stood out clearly was the variety of rituals that surround present opening.

When I was a kid, my mother always wanted me to “play elf.” That is, she wanted me to go to the tree, find everyone a present, distribute them, then do it again until all the presents were opened. I hated this. I didn’t want to bounce up and down and traipse around the room any more than anyone else did, but I was forced to because I was the youngest (and the only child). I still hate it, but now that I’m a grownup I can refuse to do it. I don’t make my kids do it, either.

When we started going to my in-laws for Christmas, my sister-in-law actually liked playing elf. I don’t care if that’s how people want to open presents, as long as I’m not the one that has to pass them out. If she was happy doing it, I was happy letting her.

One part of the present-opening at my in laws that I was not happy about was the laser focus on the opener. We’d go around one by one and open our presents, with everyone else watching intently as the gift was revealed.

The problem was my mother in law was notorious for both reusing boxes, and for buying a mix of really great gifts and strange junk. You’d remove the gift wrap and think, “She thought I’d want a Norelco electric razor?” only to realize that she’d just used a handy container which happened to fit the set of microplane graters you’d been dying for. It was disconcerting to have half a dozen people keenly watching your facial expressions, particularly when the possibility was very real one of them could be, “What the fuck is this…?

I would have much preferred we all open one present at the same time, then go around and admire what everyone else had been given. It would have given me the chance to settle my expression after opening something completely bizarre like a small tabletop statue of a sparrow (a real gift I was given, for no reason I can think of—I had never expressed a particular fondness for sparrows, or table top dust collectors, but about 20% of the gifts my mother in law gave were this sort of random, inexplicable thing).

Now I have my own house and I can do present opening my own way. I prefer to have a pile of all my presents and open them one at a time. At this point my kids are still in the “rip everything open as fast as possible and look around for more” stage, but as they get older, I hope they’ll learn to savor the process. And just because they rip everything open right away doesn’t mean I have to. But I like to have everything in front of me so I know how many things I have left to open. I hate to open the last present only to find that it was the last present. Like eating the last potato chip or M&M when you didn’t realize it was the last one—you feel let down because there aren’t more, and you didn’t fully appreciate the last one for what it was.

I suppose as the kids get older we’ll move more toward the leisurely opening sessions like the ones we had at my in laws house. I hear there may even come a day when I have to actually wake my children up in order to get them to come open presents, instead of having them get up at 4 a.m. and wake us up. But my husband and I have made a pledge never to use weird boxes for gifts. It’s just not fair to a 13 year old to have them spend even half a minute thinking that their mom got them a Salad Shooter, only to have it be a blue tooth speaker. That’s the kind of thing that can lead to therapy.

What present opening traditions do you have? Have you ever been forced to play elf? Does your family give weird gifts, or good gifts in weird packages?

Santa And Me

I don’t remember when it happened, but my mom told me there was no Santa Claus. I don’t mean she broke it to me that all those years I’d believed in something that didn’t really exist. I mean when I was three or four or however old it is kids are when they can get their heads around Santa Claus, she said he wasn’t real, no matter what my friends told me.

Before you condemn her (if you’re inclined to), let me explain her logic.

She told me later she couldn’t bring herself to lie to me. She felt telling me about a man in a red suit who flies around the world in one night and brings you presents and expecting me to believe it was insulting my intelligence. She was sure I’d recognize it for the impossible myth that it is and be disillusioned that she tricked me with this preposterous fiction. I think she overestimated how smart I really was, and how likely I was to view her participation in this almost universal bit of fantasy as deceit, but that’s neither here nor there. (To answer the obvious question, there was also no tooth fairy and no Easter Bunny in my childhood.)

She said that shortly after she told me there was no Santa I came home from school and insisted Santa was real, and she was to shut her pie hole (or whatever the four year old version of that was).

That may be so, but I will tell you I never genuinely believed in Santa.

I wanted to. I tried. I would lie in bed and pretend I was listening for sleigh bells and hooves on the roof.

But I knew it was a lie. Even at age five or six I knew I was listening for something that would never happen.

As ridiculous as it is, all my life I have felt I missed out on something really important by not being invited to participate in Santa Claus. I looked around at all my friends with their “Santa presents” and their carrots for the reindeer, and I was outside looking in. I didn’t even consider myself intellectually superior to them, because I was five and didn’t know what the fuck that meant.

I certainly told my own children about Santa Claus. All four of them have believed for years. The oldest is a bit on the suspicious side, and has always been looking for a way to expose me: an inconsistency in the story, a gift that’s just too perfectly chosen based on a request, a too-similar handwriting on the “thank you” note left beside the plate of cookie crumbs. But the younger three believe with all their hearts, and even at nine and eight still do. I recall when I was a kid that eight or nine was about the time parents were being exposed, and my friends stopped believing. Now the children of my  friends seem to keep the faith through fifth and sixth grades, according to a very scientific, very sophisticated survey I conducted by asking half a dozen of my closest friends about it.

So careful am I to preserve their faith that three or four times I have alt-tabbed to another screen when one of my nine year olds walked over to talk to me while I was writing this, lest he read something like “no Santa” over my shoulder.

I honestly believe that Santa is a good thing, providing a valuable and beneficial lesson: just because you can’t see it, just because it sounds too farfetched to be remotely real, doesn’t mean it might not be true. What harm does it do to let kids believe that the impossible is possible? What’s the harm in promoting fantasy and magic? Kids eventually figure out those things aren’t real (or are they? as one of my nine year olds would say) but to have time to trust in something unseen and almost unbelievable is a worthwhile exercise to me.

I think it teaches them unquestioning faith, which is something that’s in pretty short supply in our cynical, skeptical society. We expect kids to think they can do anything they put their minds to. If they think they can’t, couldn’t we remind them that when they were little they didn’t think twice about their faith in a man who got in a sleigh on December 24th and in one night delivered a present to every kid in the whole world? Wouldn’t that serve as a touchstone for their belief that the impossible is indeed possible, no matter how unrealistic it seems at the time? Let’s teach them that just because it sounds impossible doesn’t mean it is. I’m pretty sure that’s how we ended up with the pyramids, space travel, and Disneyland.

Thirty Things for Which I am Thankful

This is the time of year we count our blessings, of course. There’s a trend I didn’t see on Facebook this year of each day posting one thing for which we’re thankful. I’ve never done it there, and as it seemed to be “out” I decided I'd do something like that here instead, and present them all at once. In no particular order, here are 30 things for which I am thankful.

1.       Let’s get the sloppy stuff out of the way first, because I do sentimental very badly. Presence of husband and children in my life, health of aforementioned, health of self, presence of extended family and their health. Grateful: check.
2.       Friends. Without friends I’d be…well, friendless.
3.       Chocolate. Self-explanatory, I think.
4.       Office supplies. I love office supplies and could spend every penny I ever earned or ever will earn on notebooks and magnets and pens and Post It notes.
5.       Facebook. I get no end of pleasure out of Facebook. Oh, I have my gripes with it, but overall it’s fun.
6.       Wine
7.       Wine (I’m grateful for both red and white)
8.       Dishwashers and washing machines. Because if I had to do all my own dishes and hand wash all my own clothes, I would be starving and naked.
9.       Glassybabies. If you don’t know what these are, go here.
10.   Wood burning fireplaces. Especially on rainy or very cold days when I can con my husband into building me a fire and keeping it going all day.
11.   Sunglasses. They’re not so much an ocular aid as a hair accessory. Unless it’s dumping down rain, you will find me with a pair of shades on my head. Sometimes I wear them even when it’s dumping down rain.
12.   Enchilada sauce. I know that sounds weird, but it’s one of those products that really does taste as good as something you could get in a restaurant.
13.   That the concept of “X-treme” everything seems to have faded.
14.   Christmas earrings. At last count, I have enough to wear a pair from December 1 to December 24 without repeating once. Clearly I need one more pair.
15.   Sarcasm. I love sarcasm. You probably hadn't noticed.
16.   Fran Lebowitz, David Sedaris, Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry, Bill Watterson, Bill Bryson, and Berkeley Breathed. Talented comic writers all, each of whom has made an impression on me.
17.   Bugs Bunny/Road Runner cartoons. There are none finer.
18.   That my kids genuinely like the pizza I make at home, second only to what we can get from the delivery place.
19.   Grammar, punctuation, and syntax. All three are invaluable. Without it, you're just an endless misplaced comma joke on the internet.
20.   That “Sam & Kat” has been cancelled. There is a just and merciful God in Heaven.
21.   That my kids no longer bring home artwork that involves glitter. That shit sheds off projects and it’s impossible to eradicate from one’s home.
22.   Those little clear plastic things you can wear to keep from losing earrings on french wires. Those things are genius.
23.   Purell. My kids apparently have a hand washing phobia, but they’ll use Purell after they use the bathroom, so this ensures they don’t get cholera.
24.   That I live in a time when life isn’t just a never ending camping trip. That we have indoor plumbing and vacuum cleaners and heat pumps and blow dryers.
25.   That I also have lived to see a time when I can buy just the song I like, without having to buy the whole album.
26.   Leave in conditioner.
27.   Profanity. I love to swear. Sometimes I do it more than others, and I try not to do it too much, but when swear words are the right word, they’re the right fucking word.
28.   That Silly Bandz and Pokemon are no longer a thing in my house. Hoping that Minecraft will follow close behind them.
29.   That I’ve been able to come up with almost 30 things without getting schmaltzy.
30.   And finally, blog readers. Yes, you! You right there with your finger on the down arrow button. If it weren’t for you, I’d be readerless and sad. So thanks for stopping by and come back again soon!

How to Humiliate Your Tween or Teen

Parents have been unintentionally humiliating their kids since the first time Cain said to Eve, “You’re not really going to wear that outside are you?” Sometimes, however, even the best parent feels an urge to take the opportunity to inflict a little of the searing shame they felt at their own parents’ behavior. I offer here some insight into the best way to do that.

As sensitive as kids are to what they label “weirdness,” just by being yourself you’re likely to succeed. But with very little extra effort, you can really knock it out of the park. This extra effort takes the form of perceived nonconformity. If your kid thinks you’re not like the other parents, it’s sufficient to cause him or her to want to dry up and blow away with embarrassment.

Here are a few steps that I promise will reap results:

Step 1: Acquire a tween or teen
This isn’t hard to do. The simplest (and by “simplest” I really mean “most common”) way is to have a baby and wait ten years.

Step 2: Expose yourself to their music and deem a couple of their songs “kinda catchy"
If it were up to your tween, you wouldn’t listen to any music. You would be someone who reached adulthood, and ceased to consume any form of melodic sound. Why? Because then you would have no opinion on what they’re listening to, nor would you have a bunch of weird old people stuff that you liked to listen to.
The music our kids listen to isn't that far removed from what we ourselves listened to (although I will say it sort of disgruntles me when a popular song starts off with the opening riff from "Tainted Love" but turns into a rap song), so it's not hard to find at least a couple of songs you like among theirs. Then, in spite of the fact that clearly every other parent likes Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off," your kid will be mortified that you know the words and can sing along.
A car seat butt dance to any song is tween humiliation gold.
Step 3: Get dressed
There will come a time when nothing you put on your body will satisfy your teen. Everything you don will be deemed “weird.” Asking, “And just what do you want me to wear?” after you have changed three times to try to find something satisfactory to wear to an event with them will illicit only the very frustrating response, "Just, like, what all the other moms wear!” Pointing out that your wardrobe is almost identical to every other mother of every other eighth grader will be futile. You will need to stop trying to pacify, and use this as an opportunity to disgrace your child.
Obviously you don’t want to make a spectacle of yourself either, but picking a single thing—unusual earrings, a slightly wacky scarf, unconventional shoes—and wearing that with a simple pair of jeans and t-shirt will suffice. Your teen will be convinced that everyone in a two mile radius has noticed this aberration, and is tittering behind their hands about it with everyone else within the two mile radius. You win.

Step 4: Talk to them
It’s bad enough that you exist, but then you want to, like, communicate with them. And sometimes you try to use their vocabulary. Translate it into their native tongue, as it were. Remember how ghastly it was the first time your own mother declared herself “grossed out to the max”? 
So it is with your own teen or tween if you tell him or her you want to take a selfie to post on Facebook, end a sentence with “BOOM!” or use a “verbal hashtag” (ex. “I was singing along to ‘Shake It Off’ and my friend Jennifer said, ‘I totes love that song!’ and I was like ‘hashtag Swiftyrules’!”) they will be appalled and disgraced at your unseemly behavior. Kids are convinced that their language is unique and cool long after it’s become mainstream. The reason kids are constantly coming up with new slang terms is to try to keep grownups from using their vocabulary.

In closing I want to assure you that while it’s nice to make the effort to humiliate your child, you don’t really have to try that hard. As I said, parents have been unintentionally mortifying their children since the dawn of time, simply by having the audacity to exist. Sometimes your presence will be sufficiently awful for them that you may even find yourself feeling sorry for them. Those feelings are likely to evaporate as soon as they say, “Do you have to play those dorky ‘Purple Rain’ songs all the time?” so it’s always good to have a few retaliatory strategies in mind.

Not Picky

My oldest has started recording Minecraft videos. If you’re not familiar with the concept, this means he records himself playing the game for awhile, then puts the video on YouTube for the world to watch. I had no idea there was such a demand for videos of blocky graphics with a soundtrack of a pre-teen boy saying, “So…yeah,” every two and a half minutes.

He’s very excited about it, to the point that every other word out of his mouth is “record,” and every plan he relates to me of his future—ten minutes from now or ten years from now—includes a provision for “recording.”

During these conversations, I’m reminded of the wife of a former coworker, who almost got herself strangled for a similar transgression. I’m willing to put up with this  behavior in my kid, but in a relative stranger it was unforgivably aggravating.

Her husband and I were on a business trip together, and since he was staying for two weeks, she joined him for the second one. Our time overlapped by only one day, but it was a very long day.

We collected her at the airport, and on the drive to the hotel (approximately 30 minutes) she proved herself to be amazing: competent, efficient, and skilled. I know because she told me. Six times.

She was also apparently a horseback rider, and we were near an area that’s famous for its horses. She was planning to hit up a nearby stable and do a little riding. I know this because she told me. Fourteen thousand times.

“I was thinking of doing a little sightseeing. If I’m not riding, that is.”

“I’ll probably go shopping for presents for the kids on Thursday, unless I’m riding, of course.”

“I’m thinking of riding on Tuesday, so that might not be the best night to go out for a fancy dinner.”

But the best thing, the thing that made me want to shove her under a train, was that night when we went out to dinner.

There was an area where lots of restaurants were clustered together, so we went there. She assured me that she was not at all particular, and anything would do. We examined the first menu board. Her husband and I both said it looked fine. She pursed her lips.

“I don’t know…there’s not really anything here that strikes me…” We walked away to check out another restaurant while she breezily declared, “But you know, I’m easy—I’ll eat anything.”

Next restaurant.

“Well…I’m not really in the mood for Mexican.” Off we went.

“But I don’t care—anything is fine with me. I’m not a picky eater.”

Oh yeah? From what I can tell you’re actually what picky eating would be if picky eating were given human form and a superior attitude. But whatever.

Finally, on the recommendation of the maître’ d of another restaurant (Him: “What kind of food were you hoping for?” Her: “Oh, I’m not particular—I eat everything.” I rolled my eyes so hard it took 15 minutes to get them back in place after that exchange), we found someplace she would deign to sample. They served seafood. We ordered and our meals arrived. Because I was raised with manners, I asked how her entrée was. I didn’t actually care.

“Oh, well, you know, it’s okay, but this is a citrus sauce, and I sort of prefer a cream sauce.”

It took every ounce of self-control I had not to lose my shit. I wanted to say, “Then why did you not read the fucking menu, where it said that the dish you ordered was served with a citrus sauce and not a cream sauce, you self-involved, conceited, irritating twatwaffle?

You will understand when I say I was not disappointed in the least when she declared she was too tired for any further socializing after dinner. No chance for us to become lifelong friends? Darn.

I have no idea if she rode. I have no idea if she was able to find seafood with a cream sauce. I got on an airplane the next morning and left before the urge to shove her under a train became overwhelming. Or rather, became irresistibly overwhelming.

Have you ever wanted to shove someone under a train? Have you ever had someone who was clearly an exceptionally picky declare that they were not? Do you prefer cream sauce, or citrus sauce?

7 Things My Kids Refuse to Do

Kids are often reluctant to do things that to adults are very basic and instinctive—we hang up jackets, take glasses to the kitchen, and recycle cans. We’ve learned that these are things inanimate objects won’t do by themselves, and no one else will do for us. While kids haven’t yet learned that coats do not spontaneously find hooks from which to suspend themselves, they also have a high tolerance for crap on the floor. My kids would rather step over something a thousand times than pick it up. While this isn’t unique to my children, nor is it likely to be the lead story on the ten o’clock news, it did make me think about some other things my kids refuse to do, which completely baffle me.

Loosen their shoe laces
A couple of my boys wear high top sneakers fairly regularly. It’s not a carefully guarded secret that the easiest way to get one’s foot into a high top—or really, any sneaker—is to loosen the laces so that the opening is wide enough to accommodate more of the foot as it slides in. And yet, my children seem to see this as an irreversible act. They insist on trying to jam their foot in with the laces as tight as they were when the shoe was taken off the last time, then declare that there’s something wrong with the shoe, because they can’t get their foot in. News flash, boys: it’s not the shoe.

Keep their socks on
Seriously, if I have to ask, “Oh for god’s sake, who left their socks on the coffee table?” one more time, I will probably spontaneously combust.

Put on shirts or long pants
I’m the first to admit that my husband is a bit of a miser when it comes to the heat. He’s from New England, and all that stoically enduring hardships shit combined with the penny-saved-is-a-penny-earned Benjamin Franklin crap means that he likes to keep the house at a setting that feels a lot like “meat locker.”

My boys, for reasons that haven’t ever been explained, prefer to sleep in just pajama bottoms, in spite of the fact that all their pajamas are sets, and I have no problem with them sleeping in regular t-shirts. They get up and feel a slight chill, so they grab the blankets from their beds and wear them downstairs looking like the Duke of Linens & Things. This drives me to a point just beyond insane, because eventually they warm up, or go get dressed, but naturally they leave the blankets draped all over the living room furniture. Or on the floor of the mudroom (which is what happened this morning—true story).

Take things all the way upstairs
Although usually related to the blankets from their beds, this problem is not exclusively confined to that. I hand them something and say, “Take this upstairs.” Half an hour later I go up to find whatever it is on the floor, in the place they could reach when they were about five steps from the top.

Put shit in their backpacks so they don’t forget it in the morning
They will spend upwards of ten minutes finding a spot for something so they won’t forget it in the morning instead of just going to the mudroom, opening their backpack, and sticking whatever it is in there. They’ll move the item around three or four times, usually because I say, “You can’t leave that there—I’m going to have to make dinner on that part of the counter, and it will be in my way.”

Naturally they move it around so many times that the next morning they almost automatically forget to take it with them.

Dry their hair before bed
This one makes me physically uncomfortable. It’s so cold to go to bed with wet hair, and I tell them that. Occasionally the boys will let me dry theirs, but my daughter almost never will. The problem is that they wake up the next morning looking like they got the worst end of a deal involving a fork and an electrical outlet. And of course they won’t…

Let me brush their hair
You think this would be confined to my daughter, but my sons are just as bad about clutching their scalps and howling, “Nooooooooo!” when they see me pick up a hairbrush. Guys, it’s a hairbrush, not a cattle prod.

I know that my job as a parent is to raise them to be thoughtful, polite, disciplined adults (bonus points if they don’t use the word “apropos” as an abbreviation for “appropriate”). But honestly I’ll just consider myself a success if I can raise them to put their socks in the dirty clothes instead of leaving them in the living room.

Better Know a Blogger: ME! On One Funny Motha

You guys, I'm featured in Stacey from One Funny Motha's excellent series Better Know a Blogger. Every week she asks a blogger a bunch of questions, and posts their answers. (Spoiler: I got the one about grandpets wrong, even though I felt like my essay response was pretty strong. Oh well, can't win 'em all!).

Jump over and check it out! You won't be sorry. Stacey asks some really great questions. You can check back every Wednesday to see other great bloggers featured as well (or check her archives, because she's been doing this for several weeks now!)

I Probably Am Vicious and Cold Hearted

When I’m out walking around near my office, there’s something I see that always makes me think of my friend Cathy. Sorry, that kind of makes it sound like Cathy might be dead. She’s fine, in case you were worried. We live in the same city and like each other a lot, but I rarely see her. You know, sometimes you just have those friends. Anyway, there’s a sort of coffee shop thing that I pass every now and then, and I think of Cathy when I do. I almost always have to stifle my laughter so the people around me don’t think I’m a mental patient out on a day pass.

Cathy and I worked together a few years ago. Even after we both left that company, we remained friendly. When she got a new gig that brought her to an office building near mine, we’d meet for lunch occasionally.

One Spring day we wanted to get together but, for reasons that escape me, neither of us had time to sit down and eat. We agreed to meet and walk someplace to get lunch. The problem was we both wanted something different. I agreed to walk along with her where she wanted to go, then she’d walk with me, and we’d go back to our respective offices to eat. It was a pretty day, and we both wanted to get out.

First stop was the coffee shop in question that always sets me giggling. She bought a sandwich and a bottle of water. We recalibrated, and headed toward the offering of my choice. As we walked, she emoted about the gloriousness of the weather, some good news she’d gotten, several other topics, all accompanied by enthusiastic hand waving, and gesticulation with the sandwich bag and the water bottle.

Along the way, we met a woman who was a coworker of mine, who turned out to be a dear friend of Cathy’s. Cathy was delighted to see this friend—apparently they hadn’t spoken in some time—and there was more excited gesturing. As we continued on our way, Cathy expressed her pleasure at running into the friend, happily waving her sandwich and water to underscore her emotions.

We got to the deli where I wanted to buy my lunch. It wasn’t very crowded, but there were one or two people ahead of me. I got in line, and Cathy sat down to wait for me at one of the little tables they had set out. She put her sandwich bag on the table in front of her, and decided to open her water to have a drink.

She cracked the safety seal, and water spewed out in a fountain, fizzing everywhere. The geyser lasted whole seconds, sending water all over the table (although not on her sandwich) and the floor next to her. As the flood subsided, she sat there dumbfounded, staring at the puddles of water, I presume waiting for a dove with an olive branch. I confess, I started to laugh.

The woman who worked in the deli came out and mopped it up, and Cathy grabbed some napkins to clean up the table. I was still laughing when we left to walk back to our offices.

“Why is this so funny?” Cathy snapped (although to be honest, she wasn’t really angry).

“Because all the whole time we were walking, you were waving that bottle around like an overcaffeinated majorette in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Didn’t you know it was carbonated water?”

“No! I had no idea! And if you knew, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I didn’t know!” I said. “I assumed you knew what you were buying. How do I know what you bought?”

Mind you, I was still doubled over in hysterics and practically in tears. She finally dismissed me as vicious and cold hearted. I laughed all the way back to my office.

Cathy no longer works near me, so I am safe from exploding carbonated water bottles at her hands, but the memory can still make me laugh to this day. Maybe she’s right—maybe I am vicious and cold hearted.

Have you ever had a bottle of water explode all over you? Have you had someone laugh at something you did so hard that they cried? Have you ever been declared to be vicious and cold hearted?

Rolling in Dough

My high school was on what was referred to in the brochure as an “urban campus.” That sounds hip and kind of gritty, but all it meant was that the school was in the city, and not on a very large lot. Because it would have been impossible to constantly track the locations of 250 kids from 8:30 to 3 every day, we were given the freedom to leave “campus” (read: the building) during our free periods and at lunch.

There were several places we used to go, with the closest being a small liquor store on the ground floor of a nearby office building. The school brochure always reinforced that our patronage was for the purpose of purchasing chips and sodas. There was a Roy Rogers and a Burger King where we could get (comparatively) real food, although in later years the Burger King was deemed too far away for a single free period or lunchtime visit. Technically it was completely off limits, but if you had two free periods in a row they couldn’t very well stop you from venturing down there. However, if you did go, it was wise to keep it on the down low and not come back to school wearing one of the paper crowns they gave out to little kids, but that big kids always asked for, advertising your misbehavior. The frequency with which this happened might surprise you. Or not.

There were a few other sandwich shops—a Vie de France, a sub place—and then there was a Giant Food store. The Giant had what was then an exciting new feature: a salad bar. In a little round foil pan with a plastic lid you could, if you were me, drown a pile of unsuspecting iceberg lettuce in Ranch dressing, and pelt it with fake smoke flavored “bacon” bits and croutons that tasted of herbs, salt, and dust. Then you could wander over to the bakery and buy a cupcake festively decorated for the next major holiday with lavish amounts of shortening-based frosting.

There were a few kids who engaged in a more repulsive dietary ritual. They would buy an economy size tube of chocolate chip cookie dough, and eat it all day long. I confess I did this at least once that I can recall.

On the way to school, you’d stop at Giant and buy the roll. Then you’d risk enraging your orthodontist by using your teeth to rip off the little metal crimp that closed the plastic tube. The dough was cold, so you’d start out breaking it off in chunks, eating it on your walk the rest of the way to school.

Once at school, you were forbidden to take it into the classroom, so you’d leave it in your locker, where it would slowly soften to a goopy paste. Any time you visited your locker between classes, you’d squeeze out a mouthful. At lunch you’d polish off a bit more, although rarely did anyone finish a whole tube.

This is because eating nothing but cookie dough for five or six hours straight is one of the most repulsive things you can do as a human being. By about third period (around 10 a.m.), you felt faintly ill. Just before lunch period you were sort of regretting your decision to spend your entire lunch stipend on cookie dough. By the time lunch was over, you would swear this was the last time you’d consume cookie dough for the rest of your life, even though that meant you were ostensibly eschewing cookie dough for the next 70 years, give or take.

Kids generally only did this about once a year, because gross. Somehow we’d forget from one year to the next how revolting the whole experience was, and we’d do it again, only to recall that it was completely vile. We were kind of stupid that way.

Unfortunately, it’s not like the lunches I consumed on other days were so much more balanced and nutritious. I think there was a period of about four years when my lunch budget was a dollar a day. A dollar would buy you a 16 ounce soda, a bag of potato chips (or Nacho Cheese Flavor Doritos, which were a hot newcomer to the snack chip world), and a candy bar. Later I could afford to eat more lavishly when I started supplementing my allowance with babysitting money. I’m kind of surprised that prior to that time I didn’t develop some vitamin deficiency-related disease normally associated with seventeenth century sailors on long voyages, or third world inhabitants.

I will say that knowing what I ate when I was away from my parents during high school makes me a little scared for the period of their lives when my kids have control over their culinary selections when they’re away from home. I think you can understand why.

Have you ever overindulged is something and regretted it? Were your eating habits in your youth when you were away from your parents sketchy at best? Have you ever asked for a Burger King crown, even though you were at least a decade too old to wear one without the possibility of ridicule?

I Might Not Be as Smart as I Look

Kids are often not the brightest or quickest to catch on. My own sometimes seem to be willfully missing the point, or intentionally not getting it. When I get frustrated, and feel harsh words rising in my throat because they are behaving as though they are sharp as marbles, I pause and remember my own experience in what I think of as the Kilt Episode of 1972(ish).

My mother was a fan of kilts and plaid things in general (as you will recall if you read my post that included my description of the Stupidest Halloween Costume Ever Devised at 6:30 p.m. on October 31, or Really,Ever). Many years before the Halloween costume debacle, I owned another kilt, this one in a Royal Stewart tartan (that would be the red one you’re most likely familiar with, for those of you who aren’t Scottish tartan aficionados). It had straps that crossed in the back and buttoned into the waist band in the front.

Because the straps were a double thickness of wool, and because the buttons were stitched to the multi-thickness waist band, getting the straps buttoned was no mean feat. My mom had to do it for me because my fine motor skills weren’t sufficiently developed to do it (I couldn’t have been more than four), and I lacked the strength in my fingers.

Although I probably wore it multiple times, there was one time that stands out and has weathered the ravages of time, wine, and a very minor flirtation with illegal drugs to remain accessible to me.

I was at preschool—it was a Montessori preschool—and at some point during the day nature called. As nature does. I went to one of the teachers, and asked her to undo my straps so I could go to the bathroom.

“You don’t need the straps undone,” was her response.

I remember thinking how stupid she was. I did need to have them undone, otherwise I would be unable to remove the straps. I waited a few minutes, hoping that she would process my request, and realize her response was unacceptable.

I approached the same teacher again, and made the same appeal. Again, she declined on the grounds that it was unnecessary for me to have my straps removed in order to use the restroom. In my four year old way I was starting to get rather pissed off and impatient with this bozo. The straps held up the kilt. I needed to remove the straps to remove the kilt. Parlez-vous Anglais, you idiot?

I would give her one last chance. I waited a few more minutes. Things were starting to get a bit desperate here, so it wasn’t many more minutes. My four year old brain wasn’t much for coming up with new approaches, or finding new angles. I hit up the same teacher with the same plea for sartorial assistance.

“You don’t need the straps undone,” she repeated for the third time.

Really, you twatwaffle? Have I not made myself clear? These buttons are hard. My mom has to fasten them for me in the morning. I might be able to get them undone, but the odds are slim. We are nearing a point of no return here, and if you don’t give me a hand, you’re going to have more to deal with than just some stubborn buttons. I hope you have a mop and some dry undies handy, because we’re going to need them, if you get my drift.

Just at the point when I might have ended up with a nickname like Tinkle Tracy (four year olds are both creative and sympathetic in their nickname assignment), I decided to go to the restroom and try the damned buttons for myself. As I stood there fiddling, it finally dawned on me. What you no doubt have been asking yourself all this time finally occurred to me.

Why did you not just lift up your kilt—since it’s nothing more than a skirt—and go about your business?

So I did. But to this day I am not sure why the teacher, on seeing that I clearly wasn’t grasping what she was implying, didn’t say, “It’s just a skirt—lift it up and go.” Clearly she assumed I was smarter than I am, which is a mistake that many have made through the years. I humor myself she didn’t want to insult my intelligence by giving me so obvious an instruction, or she was confident I’d figure it out on my own. The truth is she came within about 45 seconds of need that mop.

Did you have a wardrobe malfunction as a child? Did you ever have to pee badly enough that you thought you might call someone a "twatwaffle" out loud? Have you ever been in a situation where people clearly thought you were smarter than you are?

Bad Connection

My husband and I have a generally conflict-free relationship. We fight rarely, and when we do, we usually end up laughing. It’s seldom that a dispute will remain unresolved for more than a day. Unless the subject is his goddamned cell phone.

For as long as I’ve known him, and for as long as he’s had a cell phone, he has been horrible about answering his phone. He sets it to silent, and ignores it. This drives me to a state just beyond batshit crazy. Why even have a phone?
A million billion years ago we had Nextel phones. They had that Direct Connect feature, where you could basically use your phone as a walkie-talkie with anyone else who had a similar phone no matter how far away from you they were. It was sort of the audible version of a text message. We used it all the time (as we now use texting), and it was particularly nice while he was traveling. As long as he had the goddamned phone on.
There was one memorable trip to Chicago when I was trying to get in touch with him. With Direct Connect, if my fading memory serves, you would alert someone you wanted to talk to them with some sort of electronic chirp. They could respond or not, but the phone kept a tally of how many times that person had tried to connect with you, similar to the way our current smart phones keep track of how many times someone calls you.
I chirped at him repeatedly with no response. I knew he had his fucking phone, so the fact that he didn’t answer me sent me into the aforementioned state of batshit crazy. I believe I chirped at him 34 times before losing my temper and throwing my phone across the room, where it hit the canvas of an oil painting and made a dent that remains to this day (relax—it was a cheap thing we bought at a charity art auction; it’s not like I hurled my phone at a priceless Renoir or something).
When he finally, finally got around to responding to me, it turned out he’d put his phone in a box of tools and loaded it on the back of a truck where it remained for about two hours before he realized what he’d done.
So cut the guy some slack, you may say. That’s a legitimate reason to not answer you, and you jumped to the conclusion that he was just being a jerk, had a tantrum a four year old would be ashamed of, and damaged a work of art.
Well, in the first place, I would say it was more a work of "art." Also that time it was (semi) legitimate. Every other fucking time it’s been that he just put his phone on vibrate and didn’t realize it was buzzing at him. I’ve asked him about this and it turns out whenever he installs any sort of app that sends push notifications, he opts in to them, which means if his phone is on audible, it’s constantly dinging and chirping sounding, I would assume, like what R2D2 would sound like if he was a particularly chatty drunk.
What a dumb ass.
I went through and opted out of as many of them as I could, but there are still a few that come through, so he still leaves his phone on vibrate 95% of the time, and I still lose my shit about it.
The other night we had this exchange (if you can call it an exchange, when he failed to respond to almost every message sent to him).
Me: "Hey can you stop and get cheese on the way home?"
Him: [no response]
Me: "Hey--we need mozzarella cheese--can you please stop and get some?"
Him: [no response]
Me: "I really need the cheese for dinner--can you PLEASE STOP on your way??"

Him: [no response]
Him: [no response]
Him: “Words With Friends.”
You can imagine my level of agitation upon receiving this.

It's worth noting that his frickin' job is Customer Loyalty Manager, so he takes calls from customers all day long, some of them on his cell phone. Also? There was an enormous bag of shredded mozzarella in the freezer, so I was able to make dinner after all. But that doesn’t mean I was any more pleased about his failure to respond to me. Asshole.

Does your significant other refuse to answer their phone? Have you ever thrown your phone (or other small appliance) across the room in a fit of anger? In what completely frivolous activity does your significant other engage, like "Words With Friends"?