Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Have you searched New York looking for a Bedazzler?

Poor Johnny...sick with 102 fever. Couch bound. Nothing to do but drink Sprite and watch the Cartoon Network.

Richie, in an act of solidarity, also spent the whole day lying on the couch, watching T.V., experiencing sympathy fatigue and asking for Sprite.

Judging from the ads the network runs, the following people watch Pokimon, Digimon, Power Rangers Mystic Force and The Adventures of Squirrel Boy:

Grownups who are $5,000, $10,000, even $20,000 in debt.

The elderly fan club of the retired surgeon general, who is now the spokesperson for Med-alert.

Young girls who dream of nothing more than to be junior bridesmaids for Barbie and mullet head Ken. (I can tell by his feathered haircut that the marriage is never going to last. The breakup will result in Young Divorce Barbie, her party-girl entourage and Fed-Ex Ken.)

And people who have searched New York city for a Bedazzler, only to learn that there wasn't such a thing...until now.

You know, when my brothers and I were kids, if we wanted to watch T.V. all day, we had to watch reruns of Andy Griffith, One Day at a Time and Sally Jessie Raphael. Now, cartoons are on 24-7...and quality control hasn't kept up.

For instance: Pokemon. Worst acting ever. Would it kill the Japanese to ease up on math and science education long enough to establish a voice over program? How long will America have to carry the world on its shoulders in the child actor department?

They say too much T.V. decreases intelligence. I'm seeing evidence of that already. Richie held up his apple cider and said, out of the blue, "Are you kidding me? This isn't a doughnut."

And I'm considering trying out for Pokemon voice work.

But they also say that watching T.V. requires less energy than doing nothing, which is about all poor Johnny can muster right now.

The other two, on the other hand, are climbing the walls. Richie is talking about Daphne from Scooby Do like she is a family friend: "Daphne is scared of robots."

J.J. is laughing at a joke his potato chip told.

And I am praying for a miraculous recovery. For Johnny of course. And for the rest of us to get out of the house soon. Even the Bedazzler is starting to look exciting. You can use it to bejewel blouses, jeans...even your credit card...

Friday, January 26, 2007

You Can Eat Glue When it's on Rice Krispy Treats

J.J. is flunking langauge arts. His parents-as-teachers representative said that compared to other kids his age, he doesn't say as many words.

So, to help him, we're supposed to tell him out loud what he is doing.

Example: "J.J. is throwing dirt from the houseplants onto the floor. J.J. is sad because mommy said 'No.' J.J. looks like he is tapdancing but is actually throwing a fit. J.J. is trying to pour chocolate milk directly into his belly. J.J. is dropping doritos into his milk. J.J. makes delicious cocoa- cheese milk for all to enjoy." Etc.

Johnny plays along, too, when Justin and I are busy: "J.J. has his hand in the toilet again."

This plan is working already. J.J. likes being talked about in the third person. It makes him feel like he is in a novel.

And he repeats our words already, as long as they start with "b."

"Bah" means bottle, Ben, ball (and grape) and "I just emptied every toy box onto the floor and now somebody's at the door."

Justin is convinced that J.J. knows what every word means but prefers to speak in gorilla.

"Ooo. Ooo. Ooo," he says, bouncing up and down on his haunches when he wants something.

Richie, on the other hand, knows how to say lots of words, but rarely knows the meaning.

For instance, today we were making rice krispy treats. After licking the spoon, he looked at me point blank and said, "Sometimes, I hate poodles."

"That's not very nice," I said.

"Why?" he asked. "What's a poodle?"

"It's a dog," I said.

"Oh," he said, with surprise.

Well, he's not the first person to hate something without knowing anything about it.

I asked him what ingredients he thought went into rice krispy treats.

"Marshmallows and glue," he said.

"Can you eat glue?" I asked.

"You can when it's on rice krispy treats," he said.

I guess it's all about context.

Likewise, Johnny was reading a story about colors the other day. When he came to pink, a pig was on the page.

"That's wierd," he said. "Pink is a beautiful color, but pigs are gross."

Words, like glue, are all about context. It's not what you say but how you say it. And sometimes you can say it without saying a word.

J.J. has taught me that there is really no better way to say, "Come with me," than to pull somebody by the hand. If you're disappointed or frustrated, crying sums it up best. You can show your hunger most clearly by pointing at food and then at your belly. When you're tired, lying on the floor sends a clear message to all your friends: "That's it for me folks. Tiptoe around me, if you don't mind."

Language has always been my good subject. It's funny to have boys who would rather play ball, collect Pokemon cards and do science experiments than memorize the lyrics from Oliver! and write greeting cards, which is what I did for fun as a kid.

But they get their point across.

For instance, when Richie licked the spoon and said, "mmmm," his message was clear, "Mommy, I love glue."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What have you been up to?

Thank you for your kind comments on my last post. I think everybody deals with grumpy or condescending people in their jobs. Luckily, most people are nice.

When I was waitressing, I forgot someone's order once (or twice.) I remember telling Justin, with surprise, "They didn't get mad or anything. They just said it was okay."

"Of course they did," he said. "We live in a civilization. You can't go nuts because someone forgets your food."

Then again, some people actually did go nuts when I forgot their food. That's why I stopped waitressing.


People often ask me, "What have you been up to?"

Maybe they ask everyone that same question.

But lately, my answer has been a little awkward.

Basically, I've been thinking of ways to keep kidnappers away from my children.

So far, I've considered buying unremovable gps bracelets, or inventing a gps microchip implantation.

Crazy? Yes.

But news reports of the latest kidnapper indicate that anytime someone wants a kid, they just go to Franklin county and take one. That is a rural county in Missouri.

It used to be, when the world seemed too crazy, I'd think, "We could always move out to the country. Our children would be safe there."

Well, it turns out the country is dangerous, too.

The thing is, I am always with my kids. If I wasn't, they would taste-test our pet frog's crickets, or something of that ilk. And while anything could happen, it's unlikely that it will.

Plus, it seems that this worry does a disservice to the families that are suffering through the heartbreak of actual kidnappings. They need our prayers, not our paranoia.

So needing a new obsession, I borrowed one from my friend. She has a fascination with a Kansas City-born Saturday Night Live star. Everybody loves a "local boy makes good story," myself included. So I googled him and sent her links.

It would be good if I could get obsessed with making phone calls to sources for my articles. Or cooking healthy and delicious meals for my family. Or just having fun.

Richie, for instance, is obsessed with having a good time all the time.

You might remember the new rule in our house: If you're going to say potty words, you have to go in the bathroom.

This was necessary because my children have Turrettes syndrome. Apparently.

Well, the other day, Johnny was singing a song with filthy lyrics: "Jingle poop, jingle poop, jingle all the pee."

I gasped melodramatically.

"Those are not living room words!" I said. "You need to go in the bathroom for potty talk."

Johnny swore off bad language and stayed in the living room.

Richie, on the other hand, RSVPed gladly to the invitation.

He marched right into the bathroom and yelled, "Aye, aye, Captain Poopy! Aye, aye, Captain Poopy!" and so on for the next 10 minutes.

Then he came out of the restroom and sighed. I guess it felt good to get that off his chest.

Sometimes, things just get tangled up in these noggins of ours. For some, it's fear and useless worry. For others, it's the words, "Aye, aye, Captain Poopy."

Eventually, you have to let go of them in order to enjoy each day as it comes...or to re-enter the living room.

People have all sorts of mottos to remind themselves of this need: Let go, let God; One day at a time; Lord, there is nothing that will happen today that you and I can't handle together; and 'Don't worry about everything. That's my job -Love, God'.

But if you can't remember any of these, just go in the bathroom and yell, "Aye aye, Captain Poopy" 17 or 18 times.

It may not provide the spiritual solace that you need, but it will make you laugh. And sometimes, that's the best medicine.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I Get No Respect

I must be the Rodney Dangerfield of writers. I get no respect. Yesterday, I talked to a secretary. After stating the information I was seeking and who I wanted to talk to, she asked, "Is this for your school newspaper?"

Today, somebody hung up on me during an interview. And what contentious topic were we discussing? Global warming? The war in Iraq? Campaign finance reform? No. It was Christmas lights.

Which made me wonder, "Who would Jesus-the reason for the season-hang up on?"

Bah humbug.

You know how some people send off electromagnetic energy that tells sharks to eat them? And others send out signals that tell lightning to strike them twice? Well, my electromagnetism tells people that I'm stupid.

Why? Because I am. I'm out of my element on almost every story I, business, electricity. If I was an expert in any of these fields, do you think I'd be doing this job?

Now, if I wrote stories on, say, Pokemon or Spiderman or how to grow carnivorous plants, I would be smart. Thanks to my sons, I've studied these subjects extensively.

Instead, I get no respect. You know why? Because if people are literate, they can write. So everybody thinks they can do my job. And they're right. They can.

And they should. If they had any questions about writing, they could call me.

Oh sure, I might be smug. I might ask them to interview my Web site instead of me. But I wouldn't hang up on them. No matter how dumb they were. Not even if it was for the school newspaper.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Why J.J. Can't Have Friends Over

Johnny and Richie often have friends over.

Not J.J. If he had a friend over, they would be too efficient. And J.J. is pretty darn productive already. His job is...well, we aren't sure, but he must have one because he walks around here like he owns the place, rearranging this and that.

I can just imagine if he had another one year old on the payroll.

J.J.: Okay, we have a lot to do today, so no breaks unless it's for a really good reason. For example, cookies. We're going to start by moving the books from the shelves to the doorway.

Friend: How come?

J.J. The purpose is two-fold. A. it will block the doorway, which is annoying. And B. it will be loud, which will wake everyone up.

That done, they take a banana break.

J.J. Now, we're going to transport all the frozen fish to the dining room floor.

Friend: Why?

J.J. Why not?

Friend: Okay.

J.J. Next we're going to make clicking noises and rasberries...Okay, that's just a team building thing. Finally we're going to tackle my brother Richie. He'll think it's funny.

Richie: Ow, J.J.! You're laying on my head! Get off!

J.J.: See what I mean. He loves that...Well, we should call it a day.

Friend: Wait a second. Don't I get paid?

J.J. Yes. For payment, feel free to eat any food off the floor. I do.

So you see, until J.J. stops working so hard, we can't afford to take on another one-year-old busy bee.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Brains of Boys

Johnny moved his desk downstairs and his office is back open for business.

Formerly, he made maps and studied leaves. Now he is a private eye and studies animals.

This is his list of things to do:

1. Test a mushroom and saumaor (salamander.)
2. Test a centipede and worm.
3. Check if any people are missing.
4. Find spy supplies.
5. Get ready to spy.
6. Spy.

On a related note, I'm reading a book called "The Minds of Boys," which states that PET scans prove that boys and girls' brains are different, thus they act different because of nature, and not just nurture.

The book is really helpful because it tells you ways to teach and raise boys. For instance, you should let them be rough and tumble with each other as long as they're not hurting anyone. This is one way they communicate.

But as far as the theory that boys are inherently different than girls, well, any mother of boys could tell you that.

I mean, our boys weren't raised by wolves, so nurture could hardly explain their growling and pouncing on each other.

Take me, for example. Please. I am with my three sons an average of 47 hours, 34 minutes and 28 seconds a week while Justin works (but who's counting?) And none of the boys acts even remotely like me.

For instance, I do not greet other mothers in the park by tackling them.

When Justin and I are sitting on the couch, I do not lie down and start kicking him. Not even soft kicks.

I also do not urge him to smell my feet.

While grocery shopping, I do not pretend to be a cougar and race around on all fours.

Nor do I put worms on my head. In my mouth. Or in my brother's pants.

If somebody put worms in my pants, I would not laugh as if it were the funniest thing in the world. On the contrary, I would be mildly offended.

But my sons do.

So you see, this proves, that nature, as well as nurture, makes a boy who he is.

The good news is, while I would not personally do any of the above things, it is interesting to watch the boys do them. At times, I feel like Jane Goodall.

I know that those worms they are taste-testing are just the precurser to bigger plans. A career in biology. Or the creation of a new superhero: Night Crawler. Or just the simple realization that even the worst thing imaginable--eating a worm--won't kill you.

And for a boy, that which doesn't kill you, will only make your mom gag.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My Dream (Lego) House

Never in a million years did I think I'd be spending a Sunday watching my dreamhouse become a reality.

It had five bedrooms and a playroom. The entryway opened into the kitchen. That way, any casual visitor could see that we stored our air compressor, toy dinosaurs and prehistoric sea creature experiments on our kitchen counter.

Then, just as the last red brick was being laid...

"Oh. You're using all the red legos?" Johnny asked, mildly disappointed. "I need some for my spaceships."

"Well, I need them for my house," I said.

What was I saying?

I'm the grownup. I'm supposed to share. Anyway, white legos might look better for the interior walls...

"Here, honey," I said, pulling apart red walls. "You're welcome to whatever legos you need."

After Johnny finished his eight identical spaceships, he smiled at me again.

"Now I'm going to make trains," he said. "I need the blue legos."

"Okay," I said, eyeing the exterior of my new home, which was blue.

"We need to destroy the house," he said.

There went my dream house. And to make matters worse, I became Johnny's assistant. I had to use the legos from my own shattered dream to build a train for a micromanager.

Knowing how attuned to detail Johnny is, I copied his lego train exactly.

"Actually, you need to make your own plan," he said, as nicely as he could. "You can't copy mine."

So I made my train red and yellow.

"Um," he laughed awkwardly. "I didn't say it should be red."

You know when you're helping someone and she tells you to do it differently?

Say you're helping your elderly neighbor paint her garage.

At first, she's like, "Oh, I actually don't want the paint rolled on because it will drip onto my prize-winning azalias.

And you're like, "Oh, that's a good point. I'll use a brush."

And then she says, "Um. I usually paint at a slight angle. I think we should paint the same way."

And you think, "Okay. That doesn't make sense, but whatever."

And then she's like, "Um, would you mind not dripping the paint on the outside of the paint can?"

Well, that's how I felt with the legos.

Nevertheless, I took them apart and started over using blue and yellow.

Then, to drive Johnny crazy, I connected the five trains into a double wide, double decker train.

"It's one big train," he said.

"Yes," I said defiantly.

"I like it," he said.

At that point, I knew I was dreaming.

However, I noticed that when Johnny brought the spaceships and trains downstairs to show his dad, my train got left upstairs.

That's okay. My specialty is designing fantasy lego houses, not imaginary trains.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Spying on the Spies

As I watched T.V. the other night, someone came belly crawling in from the dining room. I looked over to see Johnny pulling himself along like a beached sea lion.

When he saw me see him, he yelled and collapsed as if my eyes were lazers.

Then he ran back into his room, where he was supposed to be asleep, as if nothing happened.

So last night, he made a sign that said "Spy Club."

"How do you spell 'catadoo?'" he asked.

"Catadoo!" Richie laughed.

"Richie," Johnny said sternly. "Don't. Say. Anything. Nobody can know that this word exists except you and me."

"What secret word are you wanting to spell?" I asked.

"Cat. uh. Doo," he said slowly.

"Okay, C-A-T-A-D-O-O," I said confidently. I'm pretty good at spelling fake words.

As he wrote, he covered his paper with his hand, so that I wouldn't see it. Then he ran off to hide the paper so that I would never know that the word "catadoo" exists.

From what I can tell, Johnny and Richie's spy club focuses on watching Justin and I watch T.V.

They used to sneak through the living room door closest to their bedroom. But now they sneak around the house and come through the dining room. That's their big top secret plan--code name "catadoo"-- which I witnessed the other night.

When Johnny came back from hiding the top secret code word paper, I told him, "Don't worry, I won't tell Daddy what your new spy plan is."

"Hah," Johnny said. "Because you don't know what it is."

So I guess the other night, he thought that I turned my head, looked straight into his eyes, but did not actually see him.

"That's right," I said. "I won't tell because I don't know."

I do know that all this sneaking around has Richie totally confused. He went to bed last night very proud of his dinosaur jammies.

"Check out me!" he said strutting into the living room at bedtime.

But then, after supposedly going to bed, he came out wearing brown corderoys and a brown truck T-shirt.

"Is it morning yet?" he asked.

It was 8:30 p.m.

Then Johnny came out fully dressed for school. He said he wanted to be ready before he woke up in the morning.

Finally, they both fell asleep in a heap of blankets on the floor by their door.

These spies have things all topsy-turvy around here.

Well, I hope they got the information they were looking for. Justin and I watched Friday Night Lights.

The boys might not be the world's best spies, but it sure is entertaining to watch them try.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Taking Stock of 2006

After making outlandish resolutions (this year, I'll run a marathon! write a best-selling novel! conquer Wall Street! win Nashville Star! wash my hair daily!), the new year is a good time to take stock of your life, realistically.

For our household, it is:

House: 1
Car: 1
Dog: 1
Cat: 1
Children: 3
Robosapiens: 1
Reptiles and amphibians: 2
Guppies: six, that we know of as of this morning.
Legos: everywhere.
Skills: typing. catching grammatical mistakes everywhere, except for in my own work.
Dream: to write articles or stories about people and the things that are important to them.
Job: to daily demonstrate my ignorance on topics ranging from technology to kitchen sinks while earning--during some interminable assignments--Missouri minimum wage.
Proximity of reality to dream: They both involve writing, so pretty darn close, actually.

News agencies like to declare winners and losers for the year.

For us, the big winners in 2006 were:

J.J. Doubled his weight, especially in his head. People say that, due to his huge noggin and stylishly long hair, he looks like a very short 30-something man. For me, he's more like a colleague than a baby. Until he curls up on my lap with his bobba of milk and starts laughing for no reason whatsoever.

J.J. also developed instincts necessary to be the youngest of three brothers.

Do not walk across our dining room carrying a hotdog, ice cream, cookie or any other tasty treat because J.J. will take you down. He will tackle you and wrestle the food out of your hands just for agility practice. If he's not hungry, he will feed it to our dog.

Richie. Has a real command of the English language. Now begins every sentence with "Of course." Of course I'm watching Tom and Jerry. Of course I say bubble bottom every other word.

Also is controlling his potty mouth tendencies by saying these words in the bathroom. Our Parents as Teachers representative recommended this and it works great. Now, Richie steps into the powder room and says, "Poop in the Buttocks." Which is a bit redundant. But whatever. It works for him. He walks out, takes a deep breath and says, "Okay." He is ready to face the day potty talk-free. One day at a time.

Johnny. Started kindergarten. Knows all three verses of "Up on the Housetop." Has better handwriting than either of his parents. Expanded his horizons this year by reading one book that wasn't shelved in the science or reference section of the library. It was about the first Christmas stockings ever. I think he thought it was historical nonfiction.

Clutter. A big winner this year.


Well, the parents always lose, no matter what. If you're working enough hours to pay the bills, you're not spending enough time with the kids. If you're building towers with the kids, you probably will soon need a new roof and will wish you spent that time working.

If you're too nice, your kids will be spoiled. If you're too mean, they'll have issues. If you're just right, your kids will take their pick between the two previous options.

But the beauty of parenting is the kids create the illusion that you're a winner.

Take J.J., he claps when Justin walks in the door from work. He is in such a hurry to leap into his dad's arms that he trips over his own baby feet.

Or Richie. The other night, we were watching football. I asked Justin, "So is that guy down wherever his butt landed?"

As if cued by a teleprompter, Richie said, "Hahaha."

"It's actually where his knee hit," Justin said.

"Or is it where his booty landed?" I said, playing to the crowd.

Richie was dying laughing.

"You're pretty funny when Richie's in the audience," Justin said.

Or the other night we were reading a book called, "Would you rather?"

Would you eagle stole your dinner, an elephant drank your bathwater or a hippos slept in your bed?

Well, pretty soon, I realized the boys were having me go first so that they could copy my answers. This seemed odd. They are indifferent to my opinion on issues such as whether candy should be eaten in the morning or whether two boys should fight over two identical light sabers.

And yet, when it comes to eagle-elephant-hippo dilemnas, I'm a guru.

To me, that's a win.

So 2006 ends on a winning note. And you see, taking stock is a lot more rewarding than making resolutions.