Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'd Like to Order the Brushed Twill Surfer Lifestyle, Please

Whenever I get a Pottery Barn catalog in the mail, it's not the Havana sofa or Valencia sleigh bed I want. Nor the Montego pedestal table. Or even the Cara Paisley bedding.

Don't get me wrong. If given the chance, I would buy it all. Even the family photos.

But more than anything, I want the desks. Or rather the job that goes with the desk.

Because as far as I can see, the people who sit at these desks have been hired to:

a. collect sea shells and put them in jars.

b. look at magazines.

c. wait for people to get home from France.

I would excell at all of these professions.

Seriously. One Pottery Barn desk had a calendar hanging above it that said that daughter Peighton had a violin lesson on Thursday. Then nothing until Hunter returned from Paris the following Saturday.

Where were the "Call plumber ASAP!" entries? Or the "7 a.m. deadline" reminders? Or the "Teachers conference: be prepared to discuss Ritalin" sticky notes.

Did the woman who owned that desk simply clear her calendar for the month?

Did she get on the phone with her client and say, "I'm sorry, Ms. Martin. I have to cancel our Friday meeting...Yes, Hunter is flying home from Paris...I'll need to be on standby in case he needs croissants...No, this month won't work at all because, also, my daughter has a violin lesson...I'm totally swamped."

They don't sell the calendars in the catalog anymore, maybe because people were disappointed when theirs became filled with dentist appointments, teacher conferences, business travel, telephone interviews and youth sports.

So now, I just look at the desks and dream of one day owning one just like it.

In this month's catalog, for instance, one desk is lined with yellowing paperbacks. The owner appears to be charged with reading 1970s bestsellers.

Another desk has a surfer's magazine, a map and a photograph of an eagle on it.

Boss: Okay, I need you to surf past an eagle and snap it's photo. Don't forget your map.

Where do you find these jobs?

I'll tell you where. In the Pottery Barn catalogue. Order your surfer lifestyle, complete with a California beach home, today. It costs only 1 billion dollars, which is approximately the same price as the Montego bedroom set.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Revising the Mommy Advice Books

Thank you for your responses to the last blog (and others.) I really appreciate it.

It got me thinking: mothers are so worried about whether they're doing right by their children. I have no idea why. It's not like moms get blamed on T.V. for everything from childhood obesity to teenage psychopaths.

But I share this anxiety. Just the other night, I told Justin that all I ever wanted was to be a perfect mother. Or at least the kind who could get somebody a glass of milk within 30 minutes of being asked 50,000 times.

There are just so many distractions in the kitchen. Dishes. Science projects. Leftover Chinese food. The newspaper's movie section. Ah...I remember the cinema. A cool, dark place filled with candy and popcorn and laughter...

"Mom, are you ever going to get me that glass of milk?..." comes a voice from the living room.

"Yes, sir," I say, coming to. "Your order is coming right up. It's on the house since it took so long"

Or you hear yourself say to your child after a soccer game, "No, winning is not the most important thing, but it's definitely in the top five."

Who said that? you wonder. And if it was me, what kind of mother am I?

Or maybe somebody asks you, in so many words, "What kind of mother are you?"

Anyway, that's the underlying anxiety.

Now, I'm not saying mothers shouldn't try their best. Read the parenting articles or books. Watch what works for other parents. Make changes when something isn't working for your family.

For instance, I learned from my sister in law that if your kids are talking back to you, you can say, "When I tell you to do something, you should say, 'Okay, mom. That sounds great.'" This really works for me.

And it really works for Richie. At just 4 years old, he's already mastered the art of agreeing with his parents and then doing whatever he damn well pleases.


Me: Richie, it is 9 in the morning. Put down that candy right now.

Richie: (Smiling and nodding) Okay, mommy.

Me: (Looking over my shoulder) I said put down the candy.

Richie: Okay, I will. (Big smile.)

I leave the room and hear him racing through the house to hide under his bed. He put the candy down, all right. Onto his teeth.

There should be a happy medium: parenting advice that helps you do a good job without scaring you into thinking you're doing a terrible job.

So I took the liberty of editing every parenting advice book known to man.

Here is the condensed version.

1. Read to your child age appropriate books.

The last part can be dropped, I think. Those early reader books are baffling. Tug sat on Mug. Mug dug the tug. Sug hug the wug. None of that even makes sense. Skip to the intermediate books, which have plots and non-ridiculous names for key characters. That being said, my children cannot read. So maybe Tug hug the dug, after all.

2. When your child asks you to get him something (within reason), do it immediately. Otherwise, he will not immediately do what you ask him to do.

This is from a housekeeping and mothering book from the 1800s, when they obviously had more time on their hands. It's not like they had to catch their own chickens from the feed yard, pluck their feathers, wash them thoroughly, cut them up and cook them over an open fire just to make dinner. Oh, wait.

Still, I think we can change "immediately" to "at some point." If you do it immediately, you earn bonus points.

3. Do not ever give your child pop, which bathes the teeth in sugar, leading to cavities.

In this case, we add a "never" after "ever" for a more realistic goal: Do not ever never give your child pop. That's something we can all live with...until the first trip to the dentist.

Granted, with these changes, you should lower your expectations. Don't plan on raising "The Happiest Baby on the Block," but rather "One of the Happier Babies on the Block," for instance.

These and other revisions, again, can be found in my upcoming book, "How All Mothers Are Ruining their Own Lives and Their Children's (and Why This Will Ultimately Lead to the Implosion of the Sun and the Destruction of the Universe.)"

If I say that I have an upcoming book enough times...maybe it will actually happen.

Which leads me to...

4. Do something for yourself every day. Well, that is actually pretty good advice. Whatever that something is, it should energize you. For me, it is writing. For others it might be excercising or working at a job you love or watching a favorite show or drinking a cup of coffee before your kids wake up.

However, I think this advice would be even better if we changed "do" to "drink" and "for yourself" to "strong." Now it reads

4. Drink something strong each day.

Either way, remember, for at least an hour a day, try to be the "Happiest Mom on the Block." Or one of the happier ones, anyway.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

All Moms Should...

Recently, author Leslie Bennetts released a book called "The Feminist Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?"

In it, she argued that mothers should stay on the career track and not stay home with their kids.
Her reasons: financial stability, happiness and smarter kids.

I guess that's fine, if you're into that sort of thing. Happiness and all that. I prefer poverty, misery and a brood of dumbasses. But that's just me.

Seriously, I understand her mission: to alert women that staying home with their children is a financial and emotional risk. It's a risk I'm familiar with since Justin got injured last summer and was out of work for a while. And since I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown at this very moment. (Why are the boys always fighting?!)

But for me, while working full time, I felt a constant tug at my heart. Like I was some place I wasn't supposed to be. So for me, the financial risk is worth it. And I don't understand why all women should avoid that risk.

I don't understand why all women should do anything. Any arguement that includes "all" is usually a bad one. The same goes for saying that all women should stay home with their children. As if we all have the same goals, talents, personalities and family situations.

In contrast, nobody argues that all men should do one thing...manage hedge funds, for instance.

But maybe they should.

Pro: Hedge fund managers make a lot of money and can pay for their kids to go to college.

Con: But I don't even know what a hedge fund is.

Pro: Don't worry. It's in your nature to bring home the bacon, or in this case, filet minon.

Con: But I want to stay home with my kids.

Pro: Why would you want to do that?

You know that's a pretty good question. Because staying at home definitely has it's drawbacks, and money isn't the half of it.

Boredom is number one. For instance, I have checked our mailbox seven times today. That's after the mail came. I don't know what I was expecting...an adult conversation, maybe? My big break as a writer? A juggler? Instead, it was a catalogue for Domestications. With a lovely palm tree bedspread on the cover.

We did later have a police chase in our backyard. I wasn't personally in the chase, though.

Some teenage girls were running from the police, who were sure the girls were hiding in our shed or playhouse or bush or brush pile or wheelbarrow or baby pool or...Jeez, we have a lot of hiding places in our yard. The police later arrested two girls on our block, who apparently rammed a car and stole a purse.

Which leads me to the next drawback: excitement. This usually involves less serious matters than a police chase.

It is in fact sort of mundane and exciting at the same time. Like when your baby has a blowout diaper on the living room couch while your four year old throws up on the rug from the smell and your toddler tries to eat the goldfish and your editor is on the phone wondering if you could write an article that afternoon.

Winter is the third bad thing, but obviously, that happens all over the world, not just for stay-at-home moms.

I won't bore you with the advantages of staying home. Not because I can't think of any. I can. Just not right now. Because it is raining. And cold. And I have to make dinner--somehow using just a can of mushroom soup and a jar of marachino cherries. Somebody forgot to go to the store. It was J.J.

But I'm sure there are plenty of them.

You can read about these and other topics in my upcoming book: How All Mothers in America Are Screwing Up Their Own Lives and Their Children's. (And Why This Will Ultimately Lead to the Implosion of the Sun and Destruction of the Galaxy.) Reserve your copy today...before it's too late!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Oil...$1, Jellybeans...$1, the kindness of people in the checkout line...priceless

It was Justin's birthday yesterday.

I thought it would be fun for each of the boys to pick out a present for him, so I brought them to the dollar store. Not to be cheap but, well, yeah, to be cheap.

Plus, our babysitter shopped for us at the dollar store and got us some really cool gifts. So I thought, hey, that's a great idea.

I handed each of the boys a dollar, reminding them, "You're shopping for daddy, not yourself."

"Okay," said Richie as he headed for the children's videos.

J.J., meanwhile, thought we were on the gameshow Supermarket Sweep. He sprinted through the store handing me chips and jelly beans.

But Johnny, being the oldest, was all about the task at hand. Nothing but the best present for his Daddy would do.

He considered a rat trap but settled on motor oil.

"I think Daddy will really like this a lot," he said, holding up the bottle as if it were a work of art. He nodded, as if reassuring himself that he'd made the right choice. "It's to fix his truck."

Richie thought his daddy would like an X-Man cartoon made for Canadian T.V. But he settled on jelly beans. J.J. chose Ritz crackers.

We checked out and Johnny carried the bag to the car.

"This feels light," he said. "Is the motor oil in here?"

It wasn't. It turned out we never even paid for it.

We went back inside, and by this time, J.J. was beside himself. We'd been to the dentist, pet store, sporting good store, bank and grocery store already, and he was at the end of his rope. He wasn't the only one.

I felt like I was playing in a basketball game and all my other teammates had fouled out. And I didn't have arms. I was being outnumbered and outplayed.

Weighing heavily on my mind: the dentist told me Richie has a huge cavity. To a mother, that is like getting an abysmal performance review at work.

J.J. ran to the Dorito display and started throwing the little bags on the floor. Like it was all the Doritos' fault. Hey, come to think of it--do Doritos cause cavities? Maybe I'd throw some bags on the floor, too.

Instead, I picked J.J. up and started swaying back and forth, hoping to sooth him. Which was like wrestling a hungry alligator.

Johnny and Richie, meanwhile, were playing Pokemon in the open doorway, letting in the 30 degree winds.

By now there was a long line.

Out of breath from holding J.J., I barked at Johnny, "Just find what you need to find and get in line."

He picked up the motor oil.

A couple people looked at me strangely, maybe thinking, "Surely that young boy doesn't have to drive that family around."

When he got closer to the checkout, an old lady glanced over at me and then let Johnny go in front of her. She nudged him gently forward when it was his turn.

He paid the cashier for the oil and started to walk away.

"Wait a second, baby," she said. "You've got some change coming."

He took the change and spilled it all over the floor. But now I managed to hold J.J. and help pick up the change. Because the kindness of people in the line was like a little oil in a leaky tank. I didn't need much, just a few drops to get home.

And we did get home--miraculously, without any Doritos getting hurt. Thanks to the kindness of strangers.

Back home, Justin opened his gifts and of course was overjoyed.

Richie helped him eat the jelly beans. Then he sat on his lap.

"Daddy, you like that ink?" he asked. "That ink will make your car feel better."

I guess sometimes we all need a little oil--or ink--in our engines. And they seem to carry both the car kind and the people kind at the dollar store.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Rotten or Best Kaho-ickey Eggs

Do you ever feel like you've spent the whole day boiling eggs?

And you have nothing to show for it except a smelly house.

That's how today was. We got a jump start on boiling our Easter eggs. Which would be great. If we were having the egg hunt inside the boys' stomachs.

They ate them as fast as I cooked them. And that would be fine. But they snacked on them like popcorn. That is, they reclined on the couch, looking at comic books and popping eggs into their mouths as yolks crumbled all over the cushions.

I recently read an article that demanded that people preserve the dignity of childhood. Clearly this author has never seen children eat eggs.

J.J. stood within inches of his brothers' faces and demanded, "Godagodagodagoda."

Which means, "Give me your eggs. I am the king of the eggs."

He forgot one thing: he hates eggs.

But his new stuffed animal, Mushabelly Monkey, loves them. Apparently. J.J. fed him about three of them.

Now, it's not like I would allow an egg free-for-all in our house.

I followed the boys around saying, "Get a plate! Get a plate!" And they did, eating eggs all the way into the kitchen.

Every day, I can't help but feel like a cocktail waitress in our house.

Between trips to the dishwasher, I return with a notepad asking, "Can I get you anything else, boys? Another round of milk? Dessert? The check?"

"None of the above," they say. "Just more eggs."

Something else I noticed while boiling the eggs: Reading may empower a child. But not being able to read empowers them a little bit, too. Richie moves his finger under words and just makes things up.

Johnny had to bring three hard boiled eggs to school for an Easter project.

Of course, he carefully inspected the eggs that went into the pot. Nothing less than perfection would do.

Well, to get Johnny's goat, Richie put his finger on the egg carton and said slowly, pretending to read, "Rot...ten...Eggs."

But Johnny, who is a beginning reader, said, "No, it says, 'Best Kaho-ickey eggs.'"

"What does that mean?" Richie said.

Johnny shrugged.

When kids first sound out words, they could care less if it makes sense. Their theory is, "Who knows what the grownups write on their stupid egg cartons. All's I know is that "c" sounds like "kuh" and "h" sounds like "huh" and "o" sounds like "ah" and "i" sounds like "i" and c sounds like "kuh and "e" sounds like "ee."

So "b-e-s-t c-h-o-i-c-e" spells "best kaho-ickey." Whatever that means.

I would love to pretend read some things. To open the mail and, moving my finger over the bill, say, "Huh. We don't have to pay our mortgage this month. See it says, 'Please...do...not...pay...immediately.'"

Or just sound everything out and have nothing make sense.

"Says here I have a dee ad linny on Friday. My art ick ly is du ee by 8 a.m. What's a dee ad linny? Or an art ick ly? Once again, makes no sense, so I'm disregarding it."

And that's just the words that have spelling rules the kids haven't learned yet. What about the words that break the rules, like "laugh"?

In fact, there is a movement afoot to change spellings, my friend told me. They would change the "gh" in words like laugh and enough to "ff". I also think ch, sh, and th need their own letters. C and q don't seem to be doing anything except copying other letters. The same goes for "sometimes y."

Making reading easier for the kahildren...now that really would be the best kaho-ickey.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Stop and Proceed Like a Jerk

You know those stupid drivers who wait until there’s no car within seven miles before they drive through an intersection?

They peer over the steering wheel, hands shaking, and ask, “Is it clear? It looks clear, but I don’t know. I’ll wait a minute and see if any cars come.”

And guess what happens?...A car comes.

And they do it all over again. This time, with 50 cars waiting behind them.

It’s almost as if these drivers want you to be late. They want the store to close before you get there. They want you to get fired. They want you to miss your reservation. They want your sweetheart to think you’re unreliable and dump you.

They want you to lie in some gutter with no family and no reason to live.

Well, I’m one of those drivers.

But relax. It has nothing to do with you personally. I love my fellow drivers. I love them as much as they hate me. Maybe more.

Rather, my overly cautious driving is due to my numerous automobile accidents over the years.

They all happened because of one big old T-word.

Not Tequila, but teleportation.

You see, when I drive, cars literally come out of nowhere. It’s like Back to the Future. Here comes a DeLorean to total my Buick, cause financial hardship and create the best movie of all time.

So I’m extra careful. And yeah, my driving is annoying. But at least I’m not a jerk. You’d be surprised how many there are out there. They stalk cautious drivers like me.

These people can’t wait more than 30 seconds at an intersection. Their time is so precious that in order to save one minute, they want me to die.

I want to live. So I wait until the street looks sufficiently clear. And then I wait for a DeLorean to appear.

The people behind me are honking, throwing their hands up in the air, rolling down their windows and yelling at me.

“Where’s the fire?” I ask them as they speed around me…and stop.

They actually stop to argue with me.

They lay into me for, like, five minutes. Which is four minutes longer than waiting for the road to clear.

A guy did this yesterday. He starts beeping his horn two seconds after I stop at the stop sign. He speeds around me and I look in his driver’s side window, hoping to see a pregnant woman in labor. Or a doctor scrubbed up for surgery. Or Clark Kent. Or something.

But no, it’s a guy eating a fudgsicle.

After speeding around me, he takes a minute out of his busy snack time to scold me for coming to a complete stop.

Then he waits, I guess for an apology.

I said, “You’re in a big hurry, huh?”

“Yeah,” he spit out, as if that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard in his life.

“Then how’d you have time to get a popsicle out of your freezer?” I asked.

He peeled off, probably to buy more frozen treats. There’s always time for that.

You know, people have time for what they make time for.

Foodies make time to cook. Neatnicks make time to clean. Jerks make time to be jerks.

They write it in their little day planners: “4-4:30 Respond to e-mail. 4:30-5 confirm tomorrow’s appointments. 5-5:30: Act like a complete jackass on the way home.”

My day planner allows five minutes for every stop sign on my commute. One minute to be extra cautious. One minute for Back to the Future to happen. Three minutes to get yelled at by other drivers.

It’s a win-win situation.

I cross out “Have another wreck-free day” on my to-do list and they scratch out “Act like I’m the only person on this planet.”

To those impatient drivers, all I can say is: you’re welcome.