Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dear Santa, Whoever You Are

For a kid, the month of December might as well be 300 days long. Decorating a tree in your living room, watching as giant toy-filled bags are hauled into the house, seeing something other than chocolate chip cookies appear from the oven, and knowing that parents are ingesting a few more doses of Motrin than usual. The anticipation of Christmas presents paired together with two full weeks off from school is a lot to handle, and if it weren't for the fact that Santa knows when they're being naughty, all hell would break loose. I constantly remind the kids that I can give Santa an update about the bad behavior, next time I see him at the mall.

In the past, we've visited Santa only a few times. The boys have never cared for wasting an entire day at the mall to wait in a long line with whiny overdressed kids, and have preferred to use the letter-writing approach instead. Zoe has an obvious distrust of the guy, always keeps her distance, and after mumbling her demands, prefers to remain mute. Therefore, Zach has been kind enough to include her requests in his letters.

Eventually, the sad day arrives when the truth about Santa is discovered, and the letter writing stops. It's the letters toward the end of the belief period that have given me the best glimpse into Zach's sense of humor and logic. This is the letter he wrote when he was nine:

Dear Santa Claus,

It must be hard to get everything without attracting too much attention. I hope this isn't too hard. I want the game "Stay Alive!" There is probably a 99.9999% chance of adults hearing or seeing you flying by (I never do). How many trips do you take back to your workshop? Where is it anyway? How do you travel all over the world, walk through everyone's house, and eat about ten to the billionth power in one night? You probably have a little more time with a different time everywhere. I think it is the same time everywhere you go. If that's true, you travel west.

There is one more thing. My sister, Zoe, wants a "Weeble Castle." Can you do it? Thank you! I hope you aren't sick or anything!

Your friend, Zachary Adkins

Zach has always understood things very literally and logically. It would have been easy to just let his belief in Santa fade without going through the effort of convincing him otherwise, but that wouldn't have been much fun. Instead of answering his doubts and questions with the truth, Doug wrote a four page letter in return, posing as Mr. Claus. He answered his question about the cookie consumption using the term "cookie black hole." He praised Zach's theory of traveling west, but explained that he "actually travels at .99999% of the speed of light by using a quantum field generator." And in order to prevent being seen, he "uses metamaterials in the construction of my sleigh, my red suit, bag, and even woven into my reindeers' fur." Zach was completely convinced that Santa was real, because he had the letter to prove it.

Doug ended the letter with the best paragraph of all:

Someone once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In other words, something really complicated--like a quantum gravitational field generator--seems magical to those who don't know how it works. It's good to be skeptical--to question things. But I hope that in time you'll also discover that with a little ingenuity, anything is possible, including making invisible sleighs fly and causing ten to the billionth power of cookies to disappear.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Santa makes about 210 million trips back to the workshop, on average. And that year was the last Christmas that all three kids still believed in Santa Claus.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sometimes, Fake Really is Better

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I am ready to plug in the exterior illumination, hum a carol or two, and actually acknowledge the Christmas decorations that have been on Target shelves since September 15. This time of year also means shifting the shopping list from "need" to "want," picking a few cookie recipes to become this year's burn casualties, and setting up the tree. The 7-foot, "Fresh-Cut-Look" polyethylene/PVC blend tree.

I grew up with a fake Christmas tree. A very fake tree that made zero attempts at looking real. As a kid, it was my job to put the branches into the color coordinated holes, splay them out, and attempt to make it look a little less fake. Every year I complained about this chore, and every year my hands would lose massive amounts of skin because the branches were made out of a material similar to green steel wool. I was told that the reason we had a fake tree was because of my brothers' allergies, and a real tree would make them miserable. Now I think that maybe my mom lied, and she was just saving herself some misery and blaming it on someone else so she didn't look like the bad guy. She's smart.

When my husband and I bought our first house, I was so excited to spend a festive evening picking out a fresh, real tree. After dragging the thing into the house, leaving a trail of needles, jamming it into a stand, clogging up the vacuum with needles, trying to decorate it without bleeding to death, and then noticing that the house smelled like gin, I realized I wasn't exactly having a Normal Rockwell moment. After all, I hate gin.

For the next few years, I resisted the urge to plop down a couple hundred dollars for a fake tree, figuring I'd eventually love the real tree experience. I was still holding out for the greeting card moment of red-mittened, rosy-cheeked children wandering through the evergreen wonderland, sipping cocoa around a bonfire while the lot attendant tied the tree to the car with twine.

My sanity arrived in 1998 when I realized that no one in the family really likes cocoa and we don't even own red mittens. We never seemed to find a good time to go get the tree as a family, so I loaded the boys up and we went to get the thing ourselves. This was a huge mistake, since apparently I suck at picking a decent tree. I set it up, watered it, decorated it, stepped back to admire it, and literally watched the needles fall to the floor. Over the next few days, the slightest vibration in the house would send hundreds of needles raining down. I'm surprised I didn't need a blood transfusion every time I accidentally touched the thing.

One week before Christmas, while crawling around on the floor playing with Zach, I jammed a needle deep into my knee. I looked at the stupid tree and decided that for the safety of my family, it had to go. After putting on a Band-Aid, I ripped off all of the ornaments, lights and garland, piled the presents on the couch, threw the piece of kindling out the door and headed out to pick up the cardboard box of "stop-and-stare, stunning beauty." I've been using this tree ever since, and have never felt like my family is missing out on something during the holidays.

Some people think it's anti-Christmas to drag out a giant cardboard box once a year and set up a real-looking fake tree, only to fold the thing up and put it back in the box again for the next 330 days . But how is this any more bizarre than chopping down a perfectly good tree that may or may not contain a small woodland creature, tricking the tree into staying alive just a little bit longer by giving it small amounts of water, only to say: "Ha ha! Joke's on you, tree! Off to the garbage heap you go! We've had our fun with you!"

Everyone has their own preference of Christmas cookie, Christmas album, opening presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, and Christmas tree. I like sugar cookies with no frosting, "The Edge of Christmas" (specifically, "Rudolph" by The Smithereens), and the presents piled under the fake tree are opened on Christmas morning. And at no point during the holidays will you ever find me with a glass of gin.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Little Known Fact About Rock Stars

On Thursday, Zoe wanted to color a picture but was sick of coloring turkeys, arguing in-laws, pilgrims, cornucopias, bottles of booze, and anything else that had a Thanksgiving theme. After rifling through a coloring book, she managed to find a suitable picture, hauled out the vat of markers and went to work.

When I saw the green face she had colored, I thought I was praising her work when I said, "Hey, that's a cool zombie!"

"She's not a zombie. She's a rock star! See the orange hair? That means she's a rock star. Rock stars have orange hair, Zombies have blue hair. Jeesh." At this point, she walked away with her arms in the air, shaking her head in disbelief at how clueless I was.

Not being known to pass up a good debate, I said "Oh. Well then what's with the green face? I thought only zombies had green faces."

"No mom, rock stars have green faces too. Miley Cyrus has a gray face, but Hannah Montana has a green face. So rock stars have green faces."

End of debate, and she won. How was I supposed to argue with that?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Volunteering. Need I Say More?

Yesterday, I tried to get some Christmas shopping done before volunteering at school. Unfortunately, since the amount of time I had was even shorter than usual, I felt a little rushed and didn't have very much fun. I was so disoriented at one point that I found myself staring at The Cake Bakery for a full two minutes before regaining enough common sense to walk away from the end cap. At least I knew that Zoe's appreciation for my appearance at the Kindergarten Fall Festival would compensate for the fact that I was going to spend an hour surrounded by sticky kindergartners instead of shopping. Plus, it could even be fun since I was volunteering with a friend.

After having my I.D. verified for the three M-rated games I was buying for the boys and stopping at home to drop off milk, I headed to school a few minutes early. My strategy was to get there before anyone else so that I would be able to pick the party game that required the least amount of involvement. I believe in putting a lot of effort into playing sports, cleaning a house, or slamming a beer. But "The Corn Kernel Race?" Not so much.

I scanned the list of games and everything seemed to require a lot of smiling and exuberance: "Strut Like a Turkey," "Bowling," "Pumpkin Relay," and "Musical Chairs." All of them except one: "Hang Hat On The Scarecrow." I grabbed the bag of materials and waited for my friend to show up, somehow managing to avoid Fanny as she rushed around trying to organize everyone.

The game turned out to be a variation of "Pin The Tail On The Donkey." But instead of tacks we had masking tape. And instead of birthday party attendees dressed in festive clothes, there was a girl wearing the shortest miniskirt I've ever seen and boys dressed in sweats that smelled like fried Spam. Oh, and since we didn't have a blindfold, we had to say, "Shut your eyes tight! No peeking!" before we spun them around three times. I wasn't looking for an explanation as to why we didn't have a blindfold, but when the teacher said, "We aren't allowed to use a blindfold anymore because of lice," I decided that the kids could probably handle spinning around all by themselves without my having to touch them.

Towards the end of the party, one little boy started telling me about his pet turtle, or about his upcoming trip to grandma's house, or how he really likes anchovies on his pizza. I really have no idea what he was talking about because I was so distracted by the gumdrop-size green booger embedded in his left nostril. All I could think about was grabbing a crowbar and prying that sucker out of there. Too bad I didn't notice him a few weeks ago at the Halloween parade, because then I could have borrowed Zoe's.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Horses Song

I have a geriatric dog that throws up at precisely 3:30 PM most days. In contrast, I have a family that has never dealt with the stomach flu. This scenario is perfect for me because while dog barf is annoying, it's manageable. People vomit gives me nightmares.

Years ago there was a one-time solo shot of pukeage from the oldest and there have been random moments of fever-induced hurling from the five-year old. The 11-year-old, however, has never puked and has yet to be inducted into the religious experience of sitting in the bathroom moaning, "Oh God. Oh God."

I've actually handled these rare moments of regurgitation shockingly well. Since it usually happens when the kid already feels like crap, I figure it's not going to help matters much if I'm yelling, "Holy shit! That is the grossest thing I've ever seen! I need to get the hell out of here!" It's the moments when I'm not prepared and I see it, or hear it, or hear a song about it, that gets my mouth watering and gut churning. So you can imagine how excited I was when Zoe made up this song and belted it out at the top of her lungs. While I was driving.
Horses horses throwing up
clean it up with water
you're so gross, that's just so gross
clean it up with water

Horses horses in Texas, throwing up again
over here and over there
horses throwing up all over the place
cowboys should get the water

It's just so gross, where's the water
we need to clean it up right now
oh no oh no oh no oh no
horses throwing up all the time

Here they come and there they go
those horses horses in Texas
they throw up again and again and again
go get the water

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Actually, I Kick Ass At Cartwheels

Zoe answered these questions about me right before she turned five. I would have had the boys answer them too, but I wasn't willing to give them immunity.

1. What is something mom always says to you? Zoe, come over here.

2. What makes mom happy? Summertime.

3. What makes mom sad? When I'm crying.

4. What makes your mom laugh? People falling down.

5. What was your mom like as a child? You played hide-and-seek, and were crazy.

6. How old is your mom? 32.

7. How tall is your mom? As tall as a zebra.

8. What is mom's favorite thing to do? Exercise.

9. What does your mom do when you're not around? Exercise.

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for? Singing.

11. What is your mom really good at? Cartwheels.

12. What is your mom not very good at? Basketball.

13. What does your mom do for a job? Take me places.

14. What is your mom's favorite food? Salad.

15. What makes you proud of your mom? When you make me laugh.

16. What cartoon character would your mom be? The penguin from "Madagascar."

17. What do you and your mom do together? We work together.

18. How are you and your mom the same? We both have brown eyes.

19. How are you and your mom different? I'm shorter.

20. How do you know your mom loves you? Because you hug me.

21. What does mom like most about dad? He's fun to talk to.

22. What is your mom's favorite place to go? On an airplane to the beach.

23. What is your mom's favorite thing to drink? Maybe cocktails.

24. What is your mom's favorite animal? A giraffe.

25. What is your mom's favorite outfit? Pajamas.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Attack of The Ladybugs

I will never complain about the unseasonably warm November in Minnesota, but the ladybugs that refuse to die are really pissing me off. It's hard to sit on a sunny deck and enjoy a midday cocktail when six ladybugs decide to fall into my glass and get drunk too. And yes, I know the scientific name for these pests is "Asian Lady Beetles," or Harmonia axyridis, but that takes too long to type, so I'm just going to call them fuckers.

I hate the fact that every time I open the front door, a few of these fuckers come flying in and immediately adhere themselves to the highest ceiling in the house. When one finally does land on the floor, picking up that slippery fucker makes my hand smell horrible and makes me hate them even more. If I could, I would blame the little fuckers for the fact that the dog is throwing up so much lately. Who knows, maybe the old dog is so blind that he thinks he's eating a fallen chunk of food, when really it's just a nasty, crusty, smelly fucker.

Zoe seems to have a built in radar for these fuckers, and she has a definite "No Fuckers Allowed In The House" policy. Carrying out this policy requires some patience; since I don't keep an extension ladder handy, we have to wait until they descend to our level before we can execute them. Yesterday, she found one on the tile floor, and in an effort to make sure it stayed put until I was able to fetch a kleenex, fenced it in with the only resources available to a five-year-old: a purple crayon.

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's Not Do Or Don't, It's When

For some people, the debate surrounding the flu shot is, "Should we or shouldn't we?" For me it's simply, "When should I tell the kids that they're getting their flu shot?" because no matter when I tell her, I end up with the same result from Zoe; tears and drama.

I'm sure someone out there wants to tell me that I should never get the flu shot because it's caving into the government, or the syringe is filled with cyanide, or my kids will start behaving like hyenas. I don't really consider myself to be a follower, and even though some of the things I do seem pretty mainstream, they also make sense to me. Flossing, eating fruit, wearing a seat belt, applying sunscreen, banging on the table two times before I do a shot of tequila, and even vaccinating my kids, which at this time of year, includes a flu shot, are not things that should automatically get me branded as "going through life thoughtlessly without doing any research." And since I don't really have issues with cyanide (it's Jagermeister that gives me the creeps), the appointments are always made.

One year I waited until the skin on Zoe's thigh was exposed before finally saying, "Oh by the way, surprise! Today is flu shot day!" only to hear wails of agony as tears shot out of her eyes. I've used bribes of ice cream and promises of great joy immediately following the shot, which resulted in tears. Last year I notified her a week in advance, which subjected me to seven days of hearing: "How many more sleeps until the shot? Are you sure I have to get a shot? I don't like shots. How many more sleeps now?" followed by tears. This year, since the appointments were in the evening, I casually told her while she was eating lunch. I think she took it pretty well, don't you?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

They're Not Tougher Than They Look

I recently read an article about the thousands of children, some as young as three-years-old, that were taken from their families in post-World War II England and sent to work as farm laborers in Australia. My first thought was, "What a horrible story. Those poor families!" My next thought was, "Holy shit. My kids wouldn't survive two minutes if they had to work as farm laborers."

One Fall, after they raked some leaves (from our one tree), I endured days of hearing: "My shoulder hurts. Why does my shoulder hurt so much when I move it like this? Did you see this weird bump on my hand? What is that from? Man, my shoulder still hurts. And I think all that raking gave me a headache."

They even tell me about the nuisance injuries like paper cuts, hangnails, or a bruise on the shin. Usually, if they show me an especially fresh wound, I'll put a little salt on my finger and say, "Where? Right here?" while firmly smashing my finger onto the cut. You'd think that would discourage them from ever telling me about anything smaller than a compound fracture, but I've had no such luck.

Maybe I'm being a little hard on them. In the past, the boys have played several tennis matches while enduring sore feet, fatigue, and stiff legs. I've sent them to school with scratchy throats and dry coughs, only to have them return at the end of the day miraculously healed. All three of them have dealt with their share of scraped knees and elbows without having to take a trip to the Skin Graft Store. So, despite appearances, maybe they really are tougher than they look.

While I was standing in the kitchen hunched over the child labor article, Charlie came walking in with a pained expression. I waited for the woe filled tale detailing his injury.

"Man, as much as I like Pixie Stix, eating them is such a pain because the end of the paper straw gets all wet with spit and you end up wasting over half of the sugar!" He could barely get the words out.

I just stared at him, thinking that if Australia still needs some kids to be laborers on their farms in 2010, they probably don't want to be swiping them from my suburb.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How About A Carrier Pigeon?

Providing a cell phone for your kid isn't really considered an extravagance anymore, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be appreciated by the child. I admit that we equipped the 11-year-old with a phone a couple years ago for my own selfish reasons; I was sick of waiting in the car for kids that were running late, I didn't want to hear him say: "Why did Zach get a phone? When am I getting a phone? I need a phone!" for the next two years, and a carrier pigeon seemed kind of impractical.

As convenient as it has been, I wonder sometimes if maybe it was the dumbest thing I've ever done. It has been two years of me saying: "Hey Charlie, did you bring your phone? Where is your phone? Is your phone charged? Is the ringer on in case I actually call you? Don't tell me you forgot your phone again. You left your phone in the car. Go get your phone out of your tennis bag!" and on and on. Zach was responsible from the very beginning, using it for it's intended purposes, and he now is able to organize group meetings for science projects, get important information about homework, and send/receive more than 5000 texts per month.

Monday evening, after orchestra rehearsal, Charlie was getting a ride home with a friend. I reminded him (yet again) to bring his phone in case of an emergency, like a zombie attack. Shortly after he got home, we had to get back in the car for piano lessons, and the answer is yes, there are some days that I spend more time in my minivan than the house, which makes me grateful for my cell phone.

"Hey, who has a phone with him in case I'm running late?"

"I do." Zach never goes anywhere without the thing.

Charlie started muttering, "I, um, I don't...hmmm, that's weird," while frantically patting various parts of his body over and over again, waiting for the phone to magically appear in one of the pockets.

Not only was there was no phone, but there was no recollection of where the phone might have been left, or which pocket it was actually in before it wandered off. At least a carrier pigeon is too big to fit into a pocket and would have flown home on it's own.

After a couple phone calls and violently-typed emails, there was still no sign of his phone. I made it very clear to Charlie in a not-so-quiet voice that he obviously wasn't responsible enough to have the thing, and it wasn't going to be instantly replaced, unless he defines "instantly" as 365 days. He fought back tears, and knew I was right. Why should we continue to pay for something to nag the kid about when there are so many things that I can be pissed off about for free?

Yesterday I made one last call to the out-of-the-way school (of course the rehearsal wasn't at our own one-mile-away school) to see if a cell phone had miraculously appeared, and almost fell over when the secretary told me that, "Yes, one of the janitors found a green phone on the floor of the gym." I resisted the temptation to say, "just drop it in the garbage" and instead scraped together enough niceness to drive there and pick it up.

Have I told Charlie that his phone was found? Absolutely not. I'm going to let him squirm and continue to think it's missing. I'll probably give it back to him today, on the way to his violin lesson. Sometimes his teacher doesn't let him out on time, and I'm sick of waiting in the car.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Brown Stain

An inevitable topic of conversation that every parent will have to deal with is potty training. I hate talking about it, because arguing about the best potty training technique is like debating the best way to order a margarita. Some people voluntarily choose the high maintenance approach (passion fruit, blended, sugar rim, umbrella), some like to buy an expensive little toilet and 42 cases of pull-ups (Patron, Grand Marnier, freshly squeezed lime juice), and some like to keep the process as basic as possible (pre-mixed jug, on the rocks). The end result is always the same though; the kid quits using diapers and the margarita budget gets a little bigger.

Fortunately for me, I'm a basic girl and the boys potty trained without much fanfare. They still have occasional issues with the aiming thing, but I have never had to find a public bathroom every 20 minutes or haul around extra underwear and pants. They've never had an accident in public, and I have yet to receive a call from school informing me to bring new clothes. Now that they are in 6th grade and junior high, it better stay this way.

Getting Zoe to ditch the diapers was a bit trickier, but then everything about her has required a little extra effort and patience. She didn't leave any puddles at pre-school last year and I don't anticipate having to deal with one in kindergarten, but I've learned to never get too confident.

Yesterday was "Pajama Day" at school, and I had bought Zoe a pair of polka-dot fleece pajamas for the big event. After a quiet morning, I went to meet her bus at noon and saw the stain even before both of her feet were on the pavement. A huge brown smudge, right in the crotch area. I wondered if I had somehow missed/ignored a call from school, and prepared myself for the eruption of tears, the accusations of "Thanks a lot mom! I pooped my pants! You fed me too much fruit and dairy!" Instead, she skipped home, telling me about her day, how she read a book to the class, and: "Oh yeah. The teacher brought s'mores for everyone and I got chocolate on my pajamas. Right here. But that's why you do laundry, right? Oh, and Joe got in trouble today. Can I have a peanut butter sandwich?"

I was very relieved to know that I was only dealing with a chocolate stain, and realized that even if she does have an accident at school it's really no big deal, because kids at school are really forgiving, they never tease, and they never, ever call people names. Right?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Pubbly Jeejance

The Pledge of Allegiance, according to Zoe:

I pubbly jeejance to the fly
of the nident state of the in American
and the public for witches in the air
One witch under the guy, invisible,
and he flies over him with Justin for all.
And she flew away.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's Not You, It's Your Personality

When I see someone I know at the grocery store, the amount of interaction I have with this person is determined by one thing; happy hour. Would I have a beer with this individual? If yes, then by all means, I'll stop rummaging around for the freshest bag of salad and catch up with her for a couple minutes. Would I rather dump a beer on her head and then laugh in her face? Yes? In that case, a small wave is all I can manage, and hopefully she'll get the hint and move along to the frozen food section.

My own little slice of hell occurs when I run into the Most Annoying Person in the World (some people call her Maxine). She interprets the small wave and the lack of eye contact as "sure, come take up ten minutes of my time, talking to me about you, you, you, and other stuff I don't care about."

Yesterday, after pre-burning a few cocktail calories at the club, I stopped at the store. Since I had skipped the super fun communal shower hour, I was still in my sweaty gym clothes and wanted to sprint in, buy limes and bananas, and sprint out without too many people saying "Ewww, gross." Unfortunately, Maxine was right inside the door, I was only jogging instead of sprinting, and my small wave was more of a full arm swing.

"Well hi there! How is your school year going? Is everyone off to a good start? What are you doing with all your free time? I never see you anymore." Maxine chirped, anxiously waiting for my answer so she could tell me all about herself.

"School year is good. Kids are good. Beating them helps. I've just been doing drugs in my free time." I really don't care what this woman thinks of me.

After she laughed nervously, not quite knowing what part I was kidding about, she continued with "Are the boys in any sports? Because my kids play soccer. They're all really good at soccer."

Oh hell. Here we go. "Yes. the boys play tennis a few times a week. And Zoe started about a year ago and plays once a week."

"Oh my. That's quite a bit of tennis! Do they play because they like it, or are they actually good?" Seriously, who asks this? And how am I supposed to answer this kind of question without sounding like an asshole?

"No. They're not very good. I suppose that's why Zach played varsity for the high school last year. As a seventh grader." I don't mind sounding like an asshole.

"Hmmm. That sounds interesting. Well my kids play soccer. Did you know that? My daughter plays college soccer. She plays down in bzzzzzzzzzbzzzzzzbzzzzzzbzzzzzzzz soccer bzzzzzzzbzzzzzzzzbzzz bzzzzzzzzbzzbzzbzzzzzzzzzz. Isn't that great? She's amazing."

I regained consciousness just in time to say "Wow. Yeah. You must be proud. That's really something! I gotta go pee, so I guess I better go so I don't make a mess here."

"It was great catching up with you. I'm sure your boys will catch onto that tennis thing. I'll see you later!" I wanted to grab a pomegranate off of the nearby display and throw it at her face.

By the time I was driving home, I wasn't really irritated about the conversation anymore and was looking forward to grilling burgers and having a fun Friday evening happy hour with Doug. But then it occurred to me; I forgot to buy the damn limes!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wow (Dad)! What A Great Idea!

When someone (like Zach) is able to learn things easily (and they get way too much help from mom), they sometimes miss out on learning the crucial skill of trying their hardest to get great results. These people always seem to kick ass without much effort (but with a lot of help from mom), whether it's acing a test, playing a sport, mastering a musical instrument, or someday being able to do a keg stand with straight legs and pointed toes (which, by the way, mom kicks ass at).

When they finally have to face a situation that requires a lot of effort (and they don't get as much help from mom), they often get caught by surprise and don't know how to deal with the frustration. Suddenly, in order to do well, they need to pay attention, work hard, turn assignments in on time and be responsible (all by themselves). This would describe Zach's HP science class, and his rude introduction into having to actually work for his grade.

Zach approached eighth grade thinking it was just another school year. Study a little, get A's, hang out with friends, don't start any food fights, and get along with the teachers. What he wasn't expecting is a science teacher who automatically assumes that all junior high boys are lazy, and wants to be proven wrong.

After a missed assignment and turning another one in late, the kid was not off to a good start. Maybe it was his hormonal imbalances, or that he thought he would look cooler not getting all A's. What he forgot about was that his parents don't have any patience for lazy teenagers, and we definitely don't like to see B's. He has since completed every piece of extra credit he can get his hands on, and is definitely paying attention and participating in class. He is walking that fine line between star student and being a kiss ass, and I don't care.

Yesterday afternoon I talked to him about his grades. "Maybe you should ask your teacher if he would total up your extra credit points to make sure you have a strong A going into the end of the trimester."

"What are you talking about? I'm not going to do that," he snapped. "Asking him would be stupid. He doesn't have time. He'll total it up at the end."

"But if you ask him, he'll get the impression that you are concerned about your grade, and motivated to get an A." I thought I was making perfect sense.

"I'm sure he doesn't want to be bothered. I don't want to talk about it anymore. I'm not going to ask him," and off he went, to practice piano.

Last night, after Doug got home from the office, he and Zach were talking about his science grade.

Doug said "You should see if your teacher will figure out what your grade is with all of the extra credit, because he'll get the impression that you are concerned about your grade, and motivated to get an A."

"Oh. That's a good idea. I'll probably do that tomorrow," replied the boy that looked remarkably like my kid, but obviously wasn't.

I just stood there, stunned. I guess I must have timed my initial conversation with him all wrong, used the wrong tone of voice, and approached the topic from the wrong angle. Oh, and I wasn't his dad, who, by the way, does keg stands with bent legs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seven Miles

Yesterday, since it was unseasonably warm, all the chores on my List O' Fun had been completed, and Zoe seemed obsessed with using my cocktail straws for her pink lemonade, we took advantage of a free hour to do something that wasn't errand or appointment related. I picked a destination that was seven miles away, which I soon realized was 6.5 miles too far.

"So, where is it we're going? Is it somewhere fun? I really like going somewhere that's fun. The zoo is fun. And vacation is fun."

"Oh. There's Target. Target's not much fun because all you can do is buy stuff. How is that fun?"

"Where am I going? Am I going to Arizona? What? The nature center? How is the nature center fun? I thought I was going somewhere fun."

"Hey! Horses! Hi Horse! Oh wait. That one with the spots looks like a cow. Maybe it's a horse-cow. Hahahahahaha"

"Hey. More horses! There sure are a lot of cowboys that live around here, huh? I wonder where all their pigs are."

"Oooh. I like this song. Make it louder." At this point, she sang along with Lady GaGa for about 38 seconds.

"Remember last time, at that fair, when I rode those horses? That was fun. Was that a long way away? Can we go there?"

"Oh, ha ha. I just tooted. But it got smooshed into my car seat, so you didn't hear it. It might smell, though."

"Maybe the cowboys should have sheep so that they can get haircuts. Why do they have so much white fluffy hair anyway? They need a haircut."

"Papa. Paparazzi."

"It's weird to be a cowboy."

"This nature center. Is it fun? Are there horses? Or animals?"

"That car is really blue. That's weird."

"Hey, look at all those geese! Hi geese! There must be so much poop in that grass. That's not the nature center, is it? I hope not. It's all poopy."

"Ewww. What's that smell? Something smells bad. Darn goose poop." Duh, It's probably your fart making its way out of the car seat.

"What? We're here already? The nature center? This is it? Where are the horses?"

When we got home, I moved the cocktail straws to a spot that's out of her reach because obviously she isn't the one that needs them. She can use the green bendy straws that look ridiculous, but at least they match her shirt.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Just Feed Me To The Lions

I've had the pleasure of living in my taupe-hued suburban neighborhood for 11 years, have had kids enrolled at our local elementary school for the last nine, and have six more years ahead of me. So far, I haven't volunteered for the PTO, Worker Bees, Art Enrichment, Popcorn Popper (I'm not kidding, it's something you can volunteer for), or any of the too-many-to-count fundraisers. I'm not saying that I never help out, but I don't need to commit a decade of my life to organizing carnivals, stuffing envelopes, and hanging out with people that annoy me in order to feel useful. One thing that scares the shit out of me even more than being a Popcorn Popper for 15 years, though, is being a member of a Mom's Club for even one day.

I've managed to dodge multiple invitations to various Mom's Clubs (hereinafter referred to as "MC"), using excuses like "it's against my religion," "Zoe is really introverted and doesn't enjoy groups," and "I'm suffering from the Ebola virus." This year, though, there's an MC being organized that is frighteningly similar to a junior high clique. "We can invite Kristen, Tammy and Samantha. But don't tell Julie because she's boring and always talks about current events at the front door. And I think Barb reads fiction written for adults, so don't invite her either. And Mary is skinny, so obviously she's out, too." The ring leader of this MC, Fanny, is a woman that I had never met before, and was hoping to keep that way. Then I had to go grocery shopping because my damn family expected me to cook dinner, and I was out of chips.

I spotted Fanny once in produce and again in aisle four, and after lurking behind the bananas and paying special attention to the Honey Bunches of Oats, I thought I was free and clear. While hauling ass to my car and whistling a tune of victory, I heard a voice that sounded eerily similar to Mrs. Butterworth.

I think she said "Excuse me! Aren't you a mommy from A.M. kindergarten?" but it sounded a lot like "Are you enjoying my thick, rich, buttery syrup?" Fanny planted herself next to my cart, hiking up her mom jeans to heights that appeared uncomfortable.

This was one of the few times in my life that I wished I was being mistaken for someone else. "Oh. I guess I am." Shit. You caught up to me.

"Well. Some of the other mommies and I were talking about how we don't have anything to do in the afternoons after our pancakes get out of school, so I started a Mom's Club. We do all sorts of planned activities and group outings. Would you be interested in joining?"

She might as well have said "do you want to put on a jogging suit made of ground beef and hang out at the zoo for a while, petting the nice kitties?" At least then I'd have death to put me out of my misery.

I stood in the parking lot, still holding the handle of my cart, trying to figure out a way to get out of this conversation without sounding mean. I thought about screaming like a psycho while I rammed the cart into her kneecaps, but I didn't want to risk getting any blood on my chips. So, I took a more civilized approach.

"Those planned activities sure do sound fun! But I'm afraid my afternoons are all booked up. Between the martini lunch, happy hour, drinks before dinner, and writing about weirdo moms like you, I just don't see how I'd have the time. Gotta run! Gettin' shaky!" Plus, the smell of syrup makes me gag a little.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Me Speak Caveman

Maybe it's because the Paleolithic Diet doesn't sound so terrible, or that when I see those horrible Geico ads I can't help but feel like I'm watching a home movie of a family reunion. I also get a little suspicious when Doug gets home from the office at the end of the day and the first thing he does is drag me around by my hair. The thing that really makes me feel like I'm living with cavemen, though, is participating in conversations with my teenage boys.

The number of uh's, meh's, um's, yah's and yeah's I hear each day assures me that they have indeed mastered their short vowel sounds. This dialect, paired together with the posture they display while sitting on the couch, in the car, or at the kitchen table, makes me think I should be checking them for back hair.

I now realize how much time and energy I've wasted, asking questions in the form of well thought out sentences in an attempt to inject some humor into otherwise monotonous situations. Instead of saying "Hey Zach and Charlie. Dinner is ready and I managed to stay sober long enough to make your favorite ravioli, garlic bread, and salad," I could have just said "Stuff. Here. Chew."

Last night, while celebrating the fact that the kids were locked safely in their rooms, I heard Charlie sneak downstairs to quietly rummage through his backpack. This confused me, since I didn't know that cavemen could sneak, and also because I had been assured multiple times throughout the day that "Duh. Homework done. Me Xbox." It also reminded me that I needed to get better locks.

"What are you doing? Are you looking for something?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

He looked at me like I was a speaking German and grunted, "Huh?"

"Excuse me. The boy in the pajama pants and the buzz cut. Why are you digging through your backpack?" I was very careful about making sure that the question was in English this time.

"Wuh? Huh? Uh..."

I tried one more time. "You. Digging. That. What the. Homework? Me angry."

At this point, he started to show some comprehension, and after he managed to string three, sometimes even four words together at a time, I concluded that homework was indeed forgotten, and this cavewoman broke out the angry eyes. And the angry voice. Gah!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fast Start To Frustration

In our family, encouraging the kids to read is as important as teaching them how to tie their shoes or how to operate all of the remotes. The boys always have a book in progress, and Zach starts every day with breakfast and the sports section. We've never had an issue with reading in the past, and I wasn't anticipating having one this year.

For some reason, kindergarten has decided to include a program called "Fast Start" in it's reading curriculum. Every Monday, a harmless looking red folder comes home containing a story and a corresponding worksheet of activities. The worksheet is supposed to be completed and the folder returned to school the following Monday. This sounds like a simple enough task, but the sight of this folder has become a major thorn in my side because the activities suck and I don't like to do them.

Some of the activities are simple enough; do these words rhyme, number the lines, circle the lowercase t's. But then you get a question like "tell me which stanza has more syllables." My favorite so far is "do wiggle and wrinkle start the same?" It was really nice of someone with a sick sense of humor at the Fast Track Headquarters to throw in a trick question for a five-year-old. Normally, I'd add this kind of person to my Christmas card list, but right now I just want to hurt them. Badly.

Inevitably, both Zoe and I end up completely frustrated because she is confused by the terminology and I don't remember signing up for homeschool Sundays. Half-way through the worksheet her brain slowly shuts down, her attention span disappears, and I'm sure she'd circle all of the t's if I hadn't just jammed her pencil deep into my forehead.

Fortunately, Zoe's reading was off to a good start before this devil-colored folder appeared in her backpack. Once she masters "Hop on Pop," we'll move on to the "Junie B. Jones" series, and eventually the highly acclaimed "Captain Underpants." Unless, of course, they start including Fast Start worksheets with these books. If that happens, I'll just let her read "The Onion."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Realistic Expectations

Since I have two boys, I think it is important to teach them critical survival skills. These include basic things like how to make a piece of toast, how to throw a spiral, parallel parking, and knowing not to hit a girl unless the punch in the arm is code for "Hey, I really like you." And even though the boys are pretty good about picking up after themselves, they don't really know how to clean, and it has become obvious that they definitely don't know how to wipe up their own pee.

It doesn't matter if I clean the bathroom once a week or once a day, there is always pee on the toilet in the kids' bathroom. Sometimes, when the quantity is borderline unbearable, I'll ask the boys how they function at school since they seem to be suffering from unexplained temporary blindness, never seeing the small pond of urine that they left on the back of the toilet.

"It wasn't me," Zach always says. "I know how to aim."

"Maybe it was Zoe," Charlie will add. "Because I know it wasn't me either."

At this point, I am always disappointed by their lack of creativity when figuring out who to blame. Does Charlie really think that a five-year-old girl, whose legs don't even touch the floor when she's on the toilet, is going to maneuver her ass all the way to the back of the seat just so she can pee there and get her brothers in trouble? Actually, now that I think about it, this scenario is possible, but the puddle would have been bigger.

It seems to me that if chimpanzees can be taught how to use a computer, and an African Grey Parrot can learn a vocabulary of 950 words, it isn't unrealistic to expect human boys to grab an extra wad of toilet paper and wipe up some pee. Perhaps, even, wrap their opposable digits around that bristly thing on a long stick and clean the toilet.

Doug suggested that we turn aiming into a competitive sport with an elaborate point system, creating an electronic urinal cake that recognizes when it's been hit with a steady stream of pee and says "HEADSHOT" in that voice from Halo. This might work, but then I'd be worried about them getting confused and peeing on the TV instead. Then they'd just blame the dog.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Please Don't Say Play Date

I love Friday mornings because it means I have survived another week of school activities, homework, sports, not burning my house down, and not being sued. When I wake up, it's as if I can already feel the martini partying it up in my bloodstream, even though the first sip is still a couple hours away. Although the weekends always include a few kid related obligations, there's usually time for something involving the phrase "on the rocks" and hopefully R rated. One thing they don't include, however, are play dates.

If you say the word play date around me, be ready to get slapped in the face. I can tolerate being called a lot of things and am actually a big fan of using obscenities in a creative way, but hearing the word play date makes me nauseous. My mouth gets that funky watery feeling and my stomach starts to churn just typing the word, so I think I'll just call it a "PD."

When the kids were little, a PD meant that another mom would bring her boogery-nosed, uncoordinated, screaming child to my house, plop the kid down on the floor, and proceed to chatter non-stop about the latest potty training techniques, their upcoming kidless vacation to Europe, how much she paid for her Kate Spade diaper bag, and where Friday's date night dinner reservation should be made, because "you can only eat at Manny's so many times before it gets boring." Other times, there were moms that hovered over the kids like a hummingbird, observing their every move, wondering why their little pumpkin wasn't stacking a tower of 4 blocks, naming their colors, or writing a sonata. I do have a few friends that happily talk about movies that aren't animated while we sit with our feet up, sucking down bloody mary's, watching the kids maul each other and fight over toys. They never, ever use the word PD, and I bake cookies for these friends.

Now that my kids are older, their friends are older too, and believe it or not I like some of them even less than I liked their moms. The teenagers smell funny and brag, the 6th graders don't have a sense of humor, and the 5 year olds whine. One thing they all have in common is that apparently they've all been on a two day hunger strike before they get to my house, since the first thing they look for is a snack. And a juice box. Or a pot roast and a 6-pk. of Coke. A girlfriend of mine has convinced her daughter that a certain friend should be avoided because her friend's favorite phrase is "So, do you think your mom would let us have a snack?" She asks this question as soon as she's in the door, and she'll ask it at least 6 more times within the next 45 minutes. Since my girlfriend doesn't have a Costco membership, the PD's are limited to the muncher's house.

Even if I did like all of their friends, weekend PD's at our house are strongly discouraged. The kids spend the entire week at school, dealing with classrooms full of cliques, drama, and germs. Weekends are about catching up with the family that you haven't seen much of during the week, and giving me a break from all the driving. There's also the fact that I don't need a bunch of kids going home and telling their parents about how "Mrs. Adkins sure is thirsty, and she kind of slurs when she asks us if we want a snack."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shake Your Pompoms!

Like most girls, Zoe likes to dance. But she also plays tennis, can crush a wiffle ball pitched overhand, plays with trucks, is obsessed with fart jokes, loves worms, and never, ever wants to be a cheerleader.

While at a restaurant recently, a few cheerleaders were making an appearance and after spotting Zoe, one of them approached our table.

"Hi cute little girl! What's your name?" asked the lady with extremely large, excessively white teeth, extremely large, excessively styled hair and an extremely small, excessively revealing outfit.

"My name is Zoe. And what are those things you're shaking?"

After a brief moment of confusion, the lady said "Oh, these? These are pompoms! We shake them when we do our dances and cheer!" At this point, since Zoe had a bit of a bewildered look on her face, she demonstrated by jumping around a little and shaking them in the air.

Zoe said "Hmmm. They're very shiny" and then went back to eating her corn dog.

The cheerleader was perceptive enough to realize that this was a girl that was not impressed by her pompoms, so she moved on to a table of 3 men who appeared to be a little more interested in her jumping and shaking.

One thing that the cheerleader mumbled before she left our table was "All those years of ballet really paid off because now I am a cheerleader!" Zoe was in a dance class once, for six weeks. Six weeks of tapping, leaping, shuffling, and driving a teacher insane. She loved it so much, though, that now I'm sure I will never sign her up for another dance class again.

I really don't want to get the dancer moms all fired up in anger here, because frankly, some of those moms kind of scare me. But putting your daughter in years of dance classes because she wants to be a professional cheerleader someday seems a little messed up. Making sure the girl learns some basic moves so that when she's older, she'll be able to go to a Metallica concert and dance around without making a fool of herself? That makes perfect sense.

Monday, November 2, 2009

One Family Is Enough For Me

When Zoe gets home from school today, we'll probably have our usual 5-minute conversation. She'll inform me that she didn't get in trouble, but that Joe did. Then she'll tell me what she wants for lunch, which animals she thinks would be best at hopscotch (obviously a kangaroo), and finally she'll ask if it's still considered a school day, because if it's not, she gets to play her DS.

Yes, our family enjoys video and computer games. In more specific terms, four members of my family enjoy a wide range of games, and I enjoy one. Doug and the boys aren't overly picky about what they play, as long as the game doesn't suck, isn't glitchy, and preferably involves intellect, weapons and destroying zombies. I think we have owned every console ever made at some point in our lives, with the exception of the Sega Dreamcast. Did anyone buy this console?

I'm fairly sure that Charlie's main motivation to learn his shapes as a pre-schooler was so that he could operate a PlayStation controller with more efficiency. This kid started playing Halo about the same time he learned how to tie his shoes, and he can learn the controls to any game on any console in record speed. He also loves computer games, and occasionally likes playing "The Sims."

When "The Sims" first came out, I hovered by Doug and helped him build his house. It was actually kind of entertaining; picking out furniture and fixtures with fake money and being able to put walls exactly where you wanted them. There wasn't any frustration over being forced to decorate around ill-placed heat ducts or cursing at an idiot's floor plan. I even enjoyed selecting clothes for the fictional family. He eventually moved this well-dressed family into the house that we built, and that's when I lost interest.

At one point, I actually attempted to play the game independently, thinking that if I had total control over everything I might actually like it. I built a gorgeous home, added the basic furnishings, made sure there was a TV, and created a small family of my own. Suddenly, there were people telling me that they were hungry, they had to go to the bathroom, they were tired, they didn't want to go to school, they were bored, they wanted a friend over, they needed a ride to the movies, and so on. I felt anger and frustration building inside my brain and sweat forming on my palms, and that's when I realized...I was spending my free time doing exactly the same shit that I do all day. It was like someone tricked me into raising another family, except that these kids mumbled even more than my own and they couldn't afford a dishwasher because the dad always overslept for his job at the pet shop.

Sure, funny things have been known to happen in this artificial world. One of Doug's more clueless characters tried to cook soup and ended up burning the house down. Charlie built a house consisting of one room that contained a bed, a toilet, and a stove but made sure to put in a massive swimming pool and a juke box. He also created a family of 7 babies and one dad, and the dad would just sit at the computer playing a snowboarding game while the babies crawled around him, pooping in their diapers. I notice, though, that Doug doesn't create a character that is a small-business owner, and Charlie isn't exactly waking up the kids so that they get to school on time. The most realistic thing I've seen is the fact that no one likes to take out the garbage.

While the boys wait anxiously for the release of "Left4Dead 2," Zoe continues her Mario obsession, and Charlie considers putting the trailer for "Borderlands" on DVR, I'll just keep playing my plastic guitar and be able to kick all of their asses at Guitar Hero. Believe it or not, I still haven't beat that damn devil on expert, but at least he doesn't tell me when he has to pee.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Givver-Upper

I admit that I'm a slightly competitive person. I really dislike losing, and will avoid it whenever possible. I don't enjoy playing board games, cards, or keeping score of any kind. Unless, of course, I know I have a clear advantage and will, without a doubt, win. I love watching sports, but never get my hopes too high for my team to win, just in case they lose. Winning makes me happy, and losing really pisses me off.

Doug is also competitive, but in a different way. He will play any card or board game, most video games, and is great at almost every sport because he has a low tolerance for sucking at things. Because of the fact that we like to be married to each other, we never play on opposing teams of any kind, and we never keep score when we play tennis. I just assume that every time he hits a drop shot, he's only being courteous and making sure I get a good workout.

When Zach was two, we bought him the game "Hi Ho! Cherry-O." He was fascinated by the concept of counting and sorting, and we figured this would be the perfect game for him. Everything was going great, until it was his turn and the spinner arrow came to rest on the dreaded "spilled basket." He stared at his blue bucket, looked at me, and then kicked the game board, sending plastic cherries soaring across the room. Apparently he would rather default and take a trip to the naughty step than be forced to place all of those cherries back on that tree.

We should have known that two competitive people would create competitive children, but we had no idea just how much damage our genetics would do. So far, it's been an interesting education, and we have found that the competitiveness increases in magnitude with the arrival of each kid. Zoe proves this theory day after day, and yesterday was no different.

While she was playing Mario Kart on her Nintendo DS, Charlie watched with amazement at how good she is at maneuvering Bowser on a ROB-legs. He then went to get his DS, suggesting that they play the game together.

"Maybe, no. Because will there be a winner? Are you going to win sometimes?" she asked.

"No, Zoe. We can be on a team." And with that statement, she happily agreed, as long as there was no chance of him winning.

After dinner, all 3 kids were playing a game together, involving magnets and strategy. Everyone was having fun until one of Zoe's moves didn't go the way she intended it to.

"I'm done with this game. Forget it. I'm so done." she said as she slammed one of the magnets on the table.

"Zoe, don't get so upset. It's okay. You'll get another turn later. Don't quit." Zach is a great big brother with infinite patience and he really, really loves this girl.

"No. Forget it. I give up." she said, getting down from her chair.

"Fine. Be a givver-upper." I guess even infinite patience has it's limits.

Lately, we've been trying to make her more receptive to the possibility of losing. If it's checkers, I'll take advantage of the triple jump. When Doug plays Uno with her, he won't always overlook playing the blue card. If we're playing baseball, we aren't always clumsy fools and we'll manage to field the grounder cleanly and tag her out. Sometimes the boys are nice enough to play Monopoly Junior Dig 'n Dinos with her and I'll hear her say "Oh yeah! Dangett! Yeah baby, bring it! That rocks! Wooo! I'm gonna get that money! What? Darnett!", but as long as there aren't plastic dinosaur footprints ricocheting off the walls, I know that progress is being made.

Recently, we were headed home from a tennis tournament and Zoe wanted to see Zach's trophy. When he tried to give it to her after she waited patiently for 42 seconds, she refused, saying "No. I don't want to see it. I'm going to win my own tennis tournament and get my own trophy. When I'm 8." Something tells me that she'll accomplish this goal, but first she has to be willing to keep score, and learn how to lose.