Friday, March 30, 2007

In March, The Ants Come Marching In

Ants have an ingenius way of finding food in a house. They send a "scout" first. If the ant comes back carrying a crumb, his friends and relatives file into the house single file.

By "the" house, I mean our house.

Who knows why they pick us every year. It could be because our walls are painted with peanut butter. Or because our floors are waxed with Kool-aid. Or because I'm the only person in our house who knows how to use a dishrag in a kitchen setting. Other family members use them to check the oil in the car or blow their noses.

Whatever the reason, ants visit our house every spring. We're like Daytona Beach to ants. They drink Tequila under our tables; they dance on our countertops. But when the Ants Gone Wild cameramen showed up last year, I drew the line.

This year, I scoured our house the first time I saw an ant. Parties over. No more crumbs.

And no mercy either. I used to think, well, it's just one. I don't want to be a jerk and kill him while he's out walking around. No more.

You see, I've done my research on these guys. I've read the children's book "Are You an Ant?" Ever heard of it? Well if you have, then you're not an ant. Ants don't read.

Another point I learned was that ants by themselves are casing the joint. Now that I know that every ant I see is a spy or whatever, he's dead.

And that's how I discovered a hitch in their "scout" system.

If I squash one ant, they just send another. One by one, they come walking in like there's no possible danger involved.

I can just imagine their conversation back at the camp.

"Did Eddie ever come back from that house?" asks Janet.

"No, he's probably gorging himself on frozen pizza crumbs. I'll go check it out," says Alan.

An hour later.

"Now, Alan's missing," says Janet.

"I'll go after him," says Gary.

An hour later.

Janet says, "Gary isn't back yet. I'm going to check it out."

A half hour later.

Sue says, "This is strange. Now Janet is gone, too. I'll go investigate."

And on and on.

It never occurs to them that maybe something bad happened to their ant friends. That maybe those two-legged mammals who hate them and are 50 million times bigger than them and live in houses were somehow involved. And maybe they should try a different house.

Talk about dumb.

But guess who, by July, will be winning the battle between me and the ants? The ants. We will squash them, and they'll return. We'll spray for them, and it will wash away. They will conquer our kitchen and colonize our countertops.

As I squash them I can almost hear them laugh.

"There's more of me where I come from," they say.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You Say It More Emphatically When You Say Nothing at All

In a new movie out called "Into Great Silence," monks spend their lives in silent prayer. J.J. gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up because he, too, has taken a vow of silence.

For him, it's not so much prayerful as practical. He no more needs to learn English than I need to learn the primitive languages of the South American rainforests. If I wanted to go to a place with 100 percent humidity and 200 degree temperatures, I would go to Kansas City. Oh look, I'm already here.

Likewise, if J.J. wanted to have a conversation, he'd learn English. But he just wants to give orders. So body language works just fine.

When he wants something, he points at it like a bird dog. In babyland, that gives you legal ownership. Point at your brother's French fries and the contract is signed and notarized.

It's mostly food that he points his paw at. This in spite of the fact that he has the exact same dinner on his own plate. I don't know if he's afraid that someone spit on his hamburger or what, but he won't touch it.

Instead, he becomes the hamburglar.

"Hand it over," he tells his brothers by stiff arming them away from their own plates. "We had a deal. You allowed something within my eyesight and I claimed it by pointing at it."

When they hold fast to their food, he climbs on my lap. He needs a hug. And he wants me to tell his brothers that they'll be hearing from his lawyer.

Other body language: when he doesn't get his way--like, say, he is not allowed to eat the cat food, he stomps his feet really fast. If you stomp along with him, he laughs. So I guess this move means, "I demand either a. kibbles & bits or b. a tapdancing partner."

As you can imagine, it's hard to take his demands seriously when he's Tony Danza-ing across the living room.

His new trick is to use his head as a steering wheel when I'm holding him. It works like this: He tilts his head so far in the direction he wants to go, that if I don't move that way, he will fall out of my arms.

I always wind up in the kitchen.

"Do you want graham crackers, yogurt, a bottle, peanut butter & jelly?" I ask.

None of the above. Apparently, he thinks he's at the Sonic drive-thru or something. I'm the car.

But you know what my favorite body language of J.J.'s is? It's when he takes my hand and just starts wandering around the house, the yard, the block.

It means, "I don't know where we're going, mom, but let's go together."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Two Employees

Being the only grownup at home all day gets lonely at times. Sometimes, I actually daydream that I am at work. Richie and J.J. are my co-workers.

They each have their own unique style of work that is typical of employees. J.J. runs around like he has a million things to do but never really accomplishes anything.

Oh, sure, he makes a big show of carrying his lunch plate into the kitchen.

But midway to through the dining room, he drops his plate and walks through the jello, macaroni and pears. He tracks the food into the kitchen, where he grabs a cup of cold coffee from the counter and pours it on his head. Then he opens the refrigerator, takes out the ketchup and throws it against the wall. Finally, he lays down on top of the cat.

I would really like to see what his job description says.

Richie, on the other hand, accomplishes a lot. But to what purpose? At first glance, he is a model employee. Always sitting quietly, doing work at the table.

But soon, you start to ask yourself, What is that guy's job? Everytime I walk by his desk, he is cutting paper into random pieces. Or taping them together and remarking to himself, "Hmm. That's different. That's verrrry different."

Or drawing pictures with a red violet crayon of pointy-fingered gloves. Occassionaly he writes a small "H" on a large piece of paper and says, "There we go."

J.J. has become much more efficient since he hired an assistant, Cher. She's a chair. J.J. takes her everywhere he goes.

He can reach everything now.

Today, I walked into the boys room and a whole container of fish food was spilled on the floor and in J.J.'s drawer of clothes. Cher the chair was there, of course. That's how J.J. reached the food. It looked like a pinch even made it's way into the aquarium.

J.J. came walking into the room.

"What's this?" I asked.

He could have blamed his new assistant. Instead, J.J. stared at me proudly. I knew what he was thinking.

"I'm glad you asked, mom. This is just one example of how I am a self-starter. The fish looked hungry to me, so I fed them."

"Why is the food all over the floor?" I asked.

"I think it's obvious that the floor was hungry, as well. And so were my clothes. You see, for me, initiative is not just something you put on a resume. It's a way of life."

"You're fired," I said. But having know idea what that means, he smiled proudly, as if to say, "You're welcome."

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Tough Nut to Crack

We got a coconut in the mail the other day — a gift from my parents, who had been in Florida.

“Open it,” Johnny and Richie said.

“Ooh ooh. Ahh ahh,” I said, remembering past attempts at opening coconuts, or even Christmas gifts, for that matter.

One year, it took me so long to untie a bow on a package that my brother asked me point blank, "Are you a monkey?"

I often asked myself that same question. I've since learned about multiple intelligences. Some people are good at music, others, nature, others, spirituality, others, language, etc.

Most people are on some kind of spectrum. For instance, if you can't make music, but still enjoy listening to it, then you have some musical intelligence.

When you can design buildings or rebuild cars, you have spatial intelligence. If you don't have it, you struggle with 25-piece puzzles of kittens and ducks, finding places in a city--or your nose on your face, for that matter, and, most of all, cracking coconuts.

On a spectrum of one to 10, I am negative infinity.

I've come to terms with my spacial unintelligence. But now my sons were testing me--and looking at me funny because of the monkey talk.

Clearing my throat, I said, “Excuse me. I meant that I’d be happy to open the coconut. I do, after all, have opposable thumbs.”

Laughing nervously, I added, "And it's not like I'm a monkey."

First, I climbed our back stoop and dropped the coconut onto our brick patio. No cigar.

Next, I threw it against a pile of rocks. No dice.

Our cement driveway. Nope. I hit it with a sharp rock. Nothing.

I was getting hungry, so I ate a banana.

Throwing the peel over my shoulder, I climbed down from my tree limb.

My sons and I decided to take a team approach. We took turns tossing the coconut into the alley, laughing like calendar monkeys at our failed efforts.

But I was getting frustrated. Finally, baring my teeth, I spiked the coconut into the ground like a football and sat down to pick insects out of J.J.'s fur, I mean, hair.

Soon, Justin came home from work.

The boys ran to him. "Daddy, will you open our coconut?" they asked.

"Sure," he said, disappearing into the kitchen.

He returned with something called “a hammer.” In a matter of seconds, he cracked the nut.

Apparently, 8,000 years ago, human beings invented metal tools and didn’t tell me or the other chimpanzees.

If only I’d known that before I started monkeying around with that coconut.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

If I had a penny for everytime I threw a penny in a fountain and my wish didn't come true, I'd be...even

We were at Crown Center the other day and walked over to the hotel.

There, we visited the indoor waterfall. The kids all asked for coins to make a wish.

As Johnny threw his penny in the fountain, I heard him mutter, "I wish I was invisible."

I sighed. I'd wished the same thing many times. But not just for the heck of it. No, it was always in the heat of some embarassing moment:

Like when you confide to someone, "I think Bill Michaels is paranoid. He's borderline schizophrenic."

Then you turn around to make sure nobody is standing behind you. And you see that Bill Michaels is standing behind you.

But I've never wanted to be invisible just for the sake of being invisible.

When we got home, the boys crawled into bed.

Seeing his arms against the covers, Johnny said brokenheartedly, "My wish didn't come true."

"Give it time," I said.

"The first wish I ever wished for hasn't even come true yet!" he said.

"What did you wish for?"

"I can't remember."

"Then how do you know it hasn't come true?" I asked.

Truthfully, I knew for a fact that Johnny's first wish hadn't come true. He had wished for a giant robot alien. One misstep and it would have crushed our entire house. Which just shows, you should be careful what you wish for. Or not. Either way is fine.

"None of my wishes have come true," Johnny said.

Clearly, he was wishing for the wrong things.

After years of wasting pennies on wishes that didn't come true, I changed my strategy. Now, I only wish for sure bets:

I wish to pay taxes this year.

I wish that after three minutes in milk, my cereal will get soggy.

I wish that my toddler will empty every cabinet in the house while I make dinner.

Anybody can try this:

For the adolescent: I wish to have acne for seven years--at least.

For the child: I wish that my classmates will make fun of me today.

But this is a realization you have to come to on your own. For a child, the strategy is a little jaded.

What should I say to my poor child who has never had a wish come true? (And yet has more toys and snacks than past generations would have imagined.)

Lucky for him, I watch Oprah. One episode talked about The Secret, which says that if you tell the universe you want something, i.e., make a wish, and work for it everyday, then it will come true.

Assuming you're not in the middle of a war, of course. Or Somalia. The universe no speaka no thirda worlda language.

Anyway, I told Johnny, "You can't just make a wish. You also have to work for it every day. So you would have to study science in school and create a formula to make yourself invisible."

"We don't learn about being invisible in science class!" Johnny cried.

"Then what the hell are they teaching you at that school?!" I yelled.

No, I'm just joking. Rather, I said, "Well, maybe you'll learn about it in college."

"Wishes take too long to come true!" he cried.

My thoughts exactly. That's why, on really far-fetched wishes, I add a "sometime in the next billion years" clause.

So last time I made a wish, I said: "Sometime in the next billion years, I would like to pay off my credit card."

A cherub in the fountain stopped spitting water for a minute and said, "The universe asked you to make it '2 billion years.'"

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Smile for the Lightning

Richie found an old 35mm camera in our attic and has been snapping photos ever since. I'm not sure where it came from; it appears to be an antique.

But I like that he found it. It creates a sitcom atmosphere in our house. It reminds me of the footage that played during theme songs and credits for 80s T.V. shows.

The Facts of Life theme song plays..."You take the good, you take the bad, you take 'em both and there you have...the facts of life. The facts of life."

Meanwhile Trudy rollerskates into a grocery store display of cans and then, freeze frame, she's smiling cutely at the camera.

In sitcom land, nobody gets in trouble. They just get laughs.

So in our house, J.J. might be eating a fistful of dirt from the houseplant, but when Richie takes his picture, he freezes and smiles, showing muddy teeth. Cue laughter.

Or Justin might be remodeling our bathroom. Just as he breaks our bathtub in half with a sledgehammer and throws it in our front yard, cursing it vehemently, Click. He throws his head back in a jovial grin.

Or I might be yelling, "I'll be mortified if that broken bathtub is in our frontyard when the school carpool people drive by in their Lexis SUVs. That needs to be out of our yard by 7:50 a.m. sharp." Click. Now I'm smiling and winking at the camera.

Hmm. What should our theme song be? Facts of Life is taken, tragically. Same with Bewitched. "Redneck Woman" is a real possibility, what with the porcelain lawn art. It appears to be there for the long haul. Bathing in the sunlight, so to speak. Click. Me laughing good naturedly.

Richie, meanwhile, is bewitched by photo-ops. He often asks me to take his picture, and when I do, he lays on his side and rests his chin on his fist. I'm assuming he saw that pose in a Glamor Shots photo.

Temperatures reached the 60s a few days ago. In the evening, a huge pink thunderhead was rolling in, so we ate our dessert outside. Lightning flashed.

Richie turned on his heals.

"Someday taked my picture!" he said, looking around for a photographer.

Laughing, I said, "That was the lightning."

He gasped.

"The lightning taked my picture!"

He sounded indignant. Like a movie star weary from all the publicity. But it was just an act. Because next, he looked right at that thundercloud and smiled for the camera.