Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Actions Cause Reactions

A definite plus side to the holidays is that long-lost friends return home from far away, which means that I get to see them without ever having to pack a bag or step on a plane. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to spend some time with my all-time favorite babysitter who is in town visiting her family. Well, technically she has her own family now, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, after having three of my own, I can officially say that I am not a baby person anymore. Give me gross motor skills, the ability to hold down a meal for more than ten minutes and some bowel control. But having said that, her kids are so, so cute! The baby wouldn't stop smiling - even when he was spitting up - and Zoe was ecstatic about the fact that she found another little kid in the form of two-year-old Abe that liked to crawl around on all fours and bark like a rabid dog. Mandi is a great mom who has already displayed amazing potty training skills, handles hurl with the best of them and - because she's nursing - is willing to drink her cranberry and tonic without vodka. Obviously, the qualities that made her a kick ass babysitter are also making her a kick ass mom.

While I was sitting there sucking down booze with her mom and ripping on the neighbors, the baby made "the face" and "the noise" and that's when Mandi's mom said "Oh Joel, are you filling your pants? I thought I heard something!" I kind of started to laugh, but in my head I was way in hell am I offering to change that kid's diaper. I know! I'm a horrible friend! I mean, how much shit has this poor girl scraped off of my kids in the past!? And here she is, visiting from out of town, and I don't step in for one crap-filled diaper?

Luckily, I don't think Mandi was overly disappointed that I didn't leap into the air and jump at the opportunity to change a butt. But just in case, as she was leaning down to grab the wipes off of the floor with one hand and her slightly fragrant child with the other hand, I said "I'd do it for you, but I'm pretty sure I've forgotten how to change diapers. Sorry." She just laughed a little before reminding me that I hadn't forgotten because I'd recently changed my niece's diaper. I was shocked! How did she know about that? And then she reminded me again...I wrote about it.

(originally posted on June 4, 2010)

My new niece, Bianca, is adorable. Seriously guys, she is so cute. And the most amazing thing to me is that when I'm around her, I actually offer to change her diapers. You'd think that after spending hundreds of hours wiping poop off of someone else's ass I would have allowed myself to drop that skill from my repertoire, but no, I can still change a butt in record speed.

One thing I did forget, though, is that sometimes when the diaper comes off and you pull the kid's feet up to stick the new diaper under their butt, the kid sometimes takes that as an opportunity to do an impression of a bottle of French's mustard. You know, the mustard that is half-clogged so you squeeze really hard to get it to come out, and then the clog dislodges mid-squeeze.

I recently read an article outlining how my life can be happier and more positive if I practiced acceptance of certain situations rather than judgmental observation. Apparently the way a person typically processes daily life experiences, which in this case was shit being squirted across a room, can be broken down into five steps, and it's how a person reacts to these five steps that determines the resulting emotions.

1. Movement: First, something happens in our lives - a tiny incident, a big event, someone's passing comment, or a nearly imperceptible change in the environment. I have to be honest and say that a stream of shit is not exactly a tiny incident and is a fairly big event. Zoe's passing comment was "Oh my gosh, mom! What is all over your shorts? Is that poop? GROSS! HAHAHAHAHA!" And that imperceptible change in the environment was odor, and it was actually pretty perceptible.

2. Sensation: In response to that movement, we feel something physically - a twinge of pain, a flood of heat or cold, a clenching or emptiness in our body, a vibration or fluctuation we can't name. I felt a twinge of nausea, a trickle of poop running down my leg, and a light sweaty film forming on my forehead as I quickly surveyed the damage on the changing table. As far as the feelings of emptiness, I'm sure that was Bianca's bowels.

3. Thought: Then we consciously or unconsciously identify the sensation and assign some kind of reason or meaning or value to it. I very consciously identified the sensation as "disgusting" and I guess the only meaning I could come up with was that Bianca somehow knew I was a seasoned veteran when it came to diaper changing so she figured it was a good time to open the gates on her large intestine because I wouldn't panic, unlike my brother who has only been dealing with fecal matter for a couple weeks. I don't think there was any value to assign, except maybe the value of the dozens of wipes I ended up using.

4. Emotional Reaction: Next we experience a flash of a certain feeling or a combination of them - grief, fear, anger, irritation, shame, nervousness, hurt, desire, relief and so on. In addition to a little bit of panic (I really didn't want poop stains on my white shorts), I actually experienced laughter, because throughout this whole ordeal all Zoe was worried about was whether she could drag the Sit 'N Spin out of Bianca's closet. I don't know if you remember, but I tried to get rid of that space hog at Goodwill a few months ago and they wouldn't take it, so I pawned it off on my brother. So while I was wiping up his kid's splattered crap, I couldn't help but envision my brother in a couple years, constantly tripping over that thing and eventually trying to drop it off at Goodwill.

5. Behavior: Finally, we take some kind of action or reaction, verbally, physically or attitudinally - either to stop the feeling, escape it, or to do something else about it. I told Bianca that it was okay she sprayed her Auntie with poop, carried her cleaned-up and newly-outfitted self downstairs, handed her to my brother, changed my shorts, made a drink and realized that being an aunt kicks ass.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Ho Ho Ho!

Merry Christmas! May your day be filled with fun, laughter, imperfection that is taken in stride, great food, amazing cocktails and not too many tears. May you have the strength to look back on the catastrophe's of 2010 with a sense of humor and anticipate the inevitable speed bumps that will get in your way in 2011.

Today especially, if you have a baby, cherish their immobility and inability to complain. If you have little kids, try to enjoy their energy and unpredictability. If you have teenagers, try not to kill them. If you have family staying with you for an extended period of time, don't forget to put that all-important bottle of vodka and bag of kettle chips in your closet. And if you have a dog, keep track of that tinsel because nothing ruins Christmas night faster than having to take a dog to an emergency vet just so that he can hack up a giant wad of foil.

Most of all, take some time to sit back, watch your kids unwrap all the gifts that they've been coveting for the last month or so, sip something cold, eat a couple more cookies and, if you're as lucky as me, enjoy the kick ass gift that one of your kids has already given you:

Yes, that is a giant wad of bubble wrap, from Zoe. Apparently the girl is expecting me to bash my shins and hips into even more tables and corners of the wall in 2011 so, ya know, she just wants me to be safe. I love having a thoughtful child.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

SAHM - Holiday Edition

Every Monday night, for an hour and a half, the kids are at piano lessons. More accurately, the boys and I sit in a small room while Zoe spends half-an-hour learning all about middle-C and half-steps vs. whole-steps, and then I get to leave with the girl while the boys split the next hour. This means that each boy spends a total of one hour sitting on his ass.

Since I'm not a big fan of wasting time and am trying to teach my kids the importance of time-management, I've attempted to enforce a no texting/gaming/zoning out/acting like a moron policy during this hour. Instead, I have told them to use this time to either get some homework done, study for upcoming tests, or (gasp!) read something for fun.

While waiting for Zoe's lesson a few weeks ago, I noticed Charlie sitting on the couch, focusing intently on some crap that had accumulated under his thumb nail. He sat there for a full three minutes, staring at that shit like it was going to burst out and chew his face off if he so much as diverted his gaze for one second. Finally, I couldn't take it any longer. I said don't you have any homework to do? And if not, did you bring a book? And what about your other thumbnail? Isn't it going to feel neglected after you've showered the other thumb with so much attention?

He looked at me with an expression that was like what? Who are you? Why are you sitting there? What planet am I on? After he blinked a few times and his brain caught up with the current time, day, setting and my mood, he said no, no homework. None homework. Well, except for this one piece of homework, but you can't do it. I have to ask dad. Cuz dad has a job. It's about a job. Like a real job. I have to ask questions about a job, and you don't have a, well, you know, like, a...

And this is when things got precarious, and I have to admit that I kind of enjoyed watching him sit there, squirming, trying to figure out a way to describe what I do that wouldn't result in him getting pummeled over the head.

"A job. Right? Is that what you're trying to say? You need to ask dad because he gets in a car that doesn't contain a booster seat or have sliding doors and drives to a place other than the grocery store or Target and gets to hang out in a place where everyone is over five feet tall?"

"Well, yeah," he said.

Turns out that his assignment required him to interview an adult who works at a job supporting him/herself and/or a family, and ask this adult about his or her experience in the world of work. And since I didn't think that this was the best time to break into a "oh my fucking hell do you have any idea what I do for you kids all day" rant and demand that he fill in the blanks with responses like "I get to boil noodles and call it dinner. I am real good at cleaning me some pee off the toilet bowls every day and that sure does help support that there family a whole lot" I decided to not take his mom doesn't have a job stance too personally, and instead answered the questions for him as if I were his father. After all, he had the questionnaire with him and had all that extra time to kill, might as well not waste it staring at a thumbnail!

Now that the holidays are quickly approaching (Did you know the holidays are almost here? From what I've been told, I think that Christmas is just days away!), I've been thinking about Charlie's assignment, and the fact that the title SAHM goes through a major modification between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. In fact, I'll bet if I completed his questionnaire it would be pretty interesting! So I decided to do his assignment again, and maybe he can turn it in as extra credit.


What is your career/occupation/job? SAHM - Holiday Edition

What is your current job title and what exactly do you do? Holiday meal planner, which means trying to come up with several meals that are unique, festive and non-weird, but that don't require me to spend dozens of hours in the kitchen preparing something that half of the family won't eat. I am also the gift buyer, home decorator, outdoor lighting expert, excitement creator and wardrobe manager. Which means that I shop, wrap, clean, festoon, iron, shop some more, address envelopes, wait in lines and reign in aggression. Oh, and I also still do all of my other, very glamorous duties, like clean toilet bowls, which is really a suspense-filled activity this time of year because after all, some of that holiday food is kind of rich.

How many jobs have you had in your life? Five
What were they? They were those five other jobs that I had in my life before I became a SAHM.

Has changing technology affected your work life? Well, let's just say that if it weren't for being able to shop online, there would either be fewer presents under the tree or more strangers with black eyes. And being able to order my groceries online and arrange to have them delivered the day before a major holiday is pretty much on the same happiness level as Santa bringing me a truckload of vodka.

Has the economic recession affected your work life? Duh.

Why did you choose this job? Because it's so satisfying and fun -- to make fun of other people. Watching them tromp in and out of stores, stalk each other for parking spots, debate about which piece of hideous jewelry to buy for the teacher gift, scream at their overheated/overstimulated kids, wait in line for Santa, expect perfection -- it doesn't get any better than that.

What do you enjoy most about your work? Finding cool gifts for everyone is actually pretty enjoyable, but at the end of it all, throwing away the leftover cookies, sending the kids back to school and putting the Christmas tree away kicks ass. And not having to hear the word "Doorbuster" or see a Lexus with a big red bow on it for the next eleven months: euphoria.

Why is your job important to you? Because it makes my family happy, and I get to be a control freak.

What are some rewards, besides money, that you get from your job? I get to see some of the best behavior of the year come from my youngest kid because, after all, 'tis the season for bribery and the Santa card.

What new things have you had to learn to do your job? How to gift wrap a large stuffed dolphin, how to simultaneously attend a tennis lesson and a choir concert, how to find a gift that a kid asked Santa for but is no longer available domestically, how to find energy and generosity at the end of a day when all you want to do is sit down with a glass of whiskey and tell everyone else to go away already, and 5,000 other things.

How long does it take for you to get to work? Luckily for me, I live where I work. Although, this time of year it feels like I might as well be working part-time at the grocery store since it seems like I know more about their inventory than their employees do.

On average, how many hours do you work per week? On average, how many hours are there in a week? 168? Yeah, that sounds about right. Because as all parents know, even when you're sleeping there is always one ear on alert, waiting for the sound of an illness hitting a kid. And everyone knows, if an illness is going to hit a kid, it's going to happen in the middle of the night. Two days before Christmas.

What part does the computer and other technology play in your work? In addition to the obvious - online shopping, Facebook, this blog (aka therapy) - it allows me to monitor the kids' grades and most recent test scores. And depending on what I find, the amount of online shopping that I need to get done can go through a drastic reduction.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Christmas Countdown

I know I'm not alone here (right, Nancy!?) when I say...enough with the countdowns. I'm tired of hearing "Are you done with your Christmas shopping? Did you get your cards out yet? What are your plans for winter break?" and "Only a few more days to get it all done!" Every time I see a festive sweater or hear yet another version of Rudolph or the words "Doorbuster, Santariffic" or "Wrap the Holidays in Fun," it doesn't make me want to go a'caroling or a'wassailing or a'shopping. It does, however, put me in the mood to go a'drinking and a'swearing while I a'watch a little a'football.

The good news is that yes, I am done with the shopping, the wrapping, the mailing and, despite wanting to skip this year, I even sent out Christmas cards. The fake tree is decorated, the Santa gifts are hidden and each kid has a bag of crap that's just waiting to be jammed into their always-too-small stocking. But, sadly, I'm not done. Not even close.

According to my calendar, what I've been told, and what I overheard while eavesdropping on those two women at Target, these are a few of the statistics:
  • There is one week left until Christmas.
  • Two weeks left until we say adios to 2010.
  • Three school days before winter break.
  • Or for some kids, zero days until winter break.
  • Three trips to the grocery store that need to be made.
  • Actually, it's six trips if you count the two different stores because it wouldn't make sense for one store to carry everything that I need.
  • Two trips to the liquor store.
  • Or, for the insane, zero trips to the liquor store.
  • Or, if you're me, five trips.
  • $250 of express shipping fees that someone (but not me) needs to spend because a couple out-of-town recipients were "forgotten."
  • $0 of shipping fees because I paid attention when I got an email that said "Perfect gift for the mother-in-law" and "FREE SHIPPING!"
  • Twenty dozen cookies that will be baked in the next 36 hours.
  • Which sounds almost as nauseating as saying "three pounds of butter."
  • Seven days left to play the Santa card.
  • Eight gifts that "might" be returned to the store before Christmas if someone doesn't change their attitude NOW!
  • Two parents that had the nerve to plan a kid's birthday party the week before Christmas.
  • One more choir concert to get through.
  • One piano recital to get through. And oh how I hope that woman that has a Bump-It permanently implanted in her skull sits in front of me again.
  • Two more tennis lessons. Oh, and two tournaments before 2011.
  • Four more trips to the junior high, which will bring the number of trips in one week to a grand total of Ee-Lev-En.
  • Three bags of ice that I'm planning on purchasing in the next week.
  • Four bags if things go well.
  • Six bags if things go really well.
  • Oh wait, I forgot about New Year's weekend. So then, let's just say a lot of bags of ice.
  • Two classes that a kid missed last Friday, but it's okay because it was a planned absence and I was assured that the kid had everything turned in.
  • Four things that weren't turned in, completed, accounted for or were just forgotten about.
  • Ten minutes that I yelled about those four things.
  • Four limbs on a kid that resembled a dried up reptile because, after all, there are only three different things of lotion in the bathroom to choose from so how could I be so unrealistic as to expect the lotion to actually be applied to the scaly skin?
  • Really, though, how could I expect him to use lotion? After all, I've only reminded him 472 times.
  • Three times within fifteen minutes that I said "You need to get up at 6."
  • Which explains why, within one minute, a kid asked "So what time should I get up?"
  • Ten minutes that I yelled about that.
  • Twelve minutes that I wasted, standing in line at the self-service kiosk at the post office, waiting for the technologically retarded (I know that term isn't politically correct, but I think that in this case she was sort of retarded) woman to figure out how to ship a manila envelope to St. Louis and also purchase one sheet of Forever stamps, all within one transaction. She failed. Miserably. Instead of one transaction, it was actually more like seven. Seriously. The machine would not stop beeping at her.
  • Zero inches of snow in the weather forecast for the next two weeks. You hear that, bitch-face Mother Nature? I want ZERO!
  • Six scaly spots on Zoe's face that need to heal so that people can stop asking me "What's on her face? What's wrong with your daughter? Does she have the chicken pox?" and I have to repeatedly say: No, she doesn't have a disease. It's because they had Clifford (you know, the big red sweetly retarded {sorry} dog) day at school a few days ago and they used face paint to put these black dots on my kid's face. But unfortunately they used some funky face paint that contained arsenic and lye and cyanide and was probably made in Tanzania and had been recalled in 1983, which left these angry red spots on my daughter's cheeks. No, she doesn't have chicken pox because even though I'm anal and organized, I don't have the power to make sure that chicken-pox-induced red sores appear perfectly symmetrical and in only one highly visible location. And if you think the spots look freaky now, you should have seen her right after I washed the face paint off:

Oh, and yesterday she got a haircut and her bangs are so cute. But they're really short which, for some reason, accentuates the fact that there is also a scaly spot on the end of her nose. Cuz, ya know, Clifford's nose is black.

Now, where is that first bag of ice?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Save Your Money

Now that Christmas is officially less than two weeks away, one of my favorite questions to ask my kids' friends is "What are you hoping to get for Christmas?" With almost frightening accuracy, I can almost always predict which kids will say "I don't really know, because there's nothing I really need" and which ones, without hesitation, say "Money, another Xbox, cash, a new cell phone, a car, a ski trip in Colorado with my friends, gift cards, maybe some more money, and did I mention money?"

This year, my kids haven't asked for much. A video game here, a board game there, maybe a few pieces of plastic weaponry, but fortunately nothing that will force us to eat ramen for the next few months. That gift list belongs to me (new refrigerator anyone?), which is why when anyone asks me what I want for Christmas, my response is always "Nothing. Really, nothing. Unless you're prepared to spend $20,000." to which they respond "Okay, then. No problem. Nothing it is." But then there's always those people that insist on getting you something because after all, 'tis the season for giving crappy gifts (like the ones on this list).

One thing about the Sunday paper this time of year is that it weighs about 12 pounds, 11.5 of which is ads for doorbuster sales. Buried in these ads, and in the barrage of catalogs that have been arriving in my mailbox since September, are some products that truly leave me wondering -- who in the hell would ever buy any of this stuff for someone and expect to hear "Kick ass! I always wanted me one of these! You knew exactly what I needed!"

This craptastic bedding set is appropriately called "Mossy Oak," and can be yours for the low price of $120. Maybe it would be good for parents to have, though, because when the kids wander in at midnight, they won't be able to find mom or dad.

I think this is a back massager, but considering the shape and varying lengths of the "massage tips," something tells me it could probably be used for other things as well.

No, it's not an alien or even a Rocky Mountain bighorn ram with unusually large horns. It's a uterus pillow. Just what every girl wants, and what every guy wants to see propped up on the couch.

If you wear this thing for just ten minutes a day, you will notice a 72% reduction in sagging, a 42% reduction in wrinkles, a noticeable improvement in skin tone and color, and a 100% reduction in the number of friends you have. Because now they all think you're insane.

When I bring my daughter to the pool, I like for her to be able to swim, kick, jump and stand in the pool, not to mention be able to walk (not run) on the pool deck. Notice, "wave legs around like a moron mermaid" and "fall flat on face because her feet are stuck together" are not on this list.

The funny thing is, I know someone that would think this is a pretty cool gift. I, however, don't need one because I see something frighteningly similar every day. It's called a "neighbor."

These "instant flattery" pinstripe slacks may very well make the legs look long and lean, but they also make the ass look all squishy and fat, especially when one bends over.

I know there are families out there that buy new pajamas every Christmas, and some of these families go so far as to buy matching pj's. But come on, matching pajamas for the dog? That's going too far.

And just so you know, if I were to ever buy green striped pajamas for my husband, I would never see him wearing them on Christmas morning. Because dead people can't see.

Too. Many. Jokes. Can't. Think. Clearly.

hahahahahahahahahaha! Seriously? Anyone who has been married for more than two minutes knows that when the husband is out of town, the wife is all HOLY SHIT THIS IS AWESOME! I HAVE THE WHOLE BED TO MYSELF WITHOUT ANYONE ELSE'S BODY PARTS TAKING UP SPACE!

Honestly, how creepy would it be to sleep with a fucking arm? Who knows, though. Maybe you can insert four "D" batteries and the hand does a gentle squeezing motion. That would explain why she put the hand on her boob.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Please Complete This Survey

I don't know what it is about me, but as soon as a school project is due and all retail establishments are closed, I cause printers to malfunction. I've written about my wonderful experiences with Hewlett Packard in the past (like here and here), but after a month or so of not having a science project due, I had kind of forgotten about how it tends to break down at critical times. This time, though, it wasn't because of a science project -- it was for Spanish.

For this project, Zach had to write sentences that described each family member (I didn't read it very closely, but I'm assuming my page included things like "Mi mama es totalmente loco.") and also include a picture of each person. Things were going really well, until we attempted to print the pictures. Needless to say, the colors were not accurate.

Since I had noticed color inaccuracy issues over the last several weeks (but honestly, who cares if the school lunch menu has a slight blue tint to it?), I decided it was finally time to invest a few minutes and call Hewlett Packard to let them know that I was the proud owner of yet another piece of their manufactured shit. I looked online to find a customer service phone number, dialed it up and almost fell off my chair when a real, live human answered on the second ring, saying "Hello. This be Radharishnan. Thanks calling HP for your needs. How can you be helped?"

I explained my printer issues to him, he seemed genuinely empathetic to my frustrations and I was feeling optimistic about how things were going. Then he said that I had called a customer service location that was meant to help with corporate software issues, that he had no ability to help with my printing needs, here is the correct number for you to dial and oh yes, have a day that's nice.

I hung up, slightly confused, and then called the number he gave me. This is when things took a nasty turn and now my feelings can be best summed up as: I fucking hate Hewlett Packard, aka the worst company in existence who manufactures nothing but pieces of shit that are molded into things that slightly resemble printers.

Fortunately, a couple days after the phone call they sent me an online Customer Support Survey, which I was more than happy to complete.

Please select the language that you would like to take this survey in:
English, so that I can say "fuck you."

You have selected English for this survey.
Yeah, no shit.

The survey will take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

In which country do you currently reside?
The United States, unlike your customer service department.

Our records indicate that you recently contacted HP's Technical Support, where it was determined that your HP product is no longer supported under HP's warranty program. Is this correct?
Yes, it is, because your warranty program is designed for products that aren't pieces of shit. But unfortunately your products suck donkey ass.

Were you offered technical support for a fee to resolve your product issue?
Yes, I was. And I think after I was given the opportunity to pay $35 for someone to say "clean the printer heads" instead of "We're so sorry our printers suck, may I suggest, for free, that you clean the printer heads, which can only be done through the HP Device Manager on your computer," I maybe said something like "No thanks, stupid bitch."

Did you accept or decline the fee-based technical support offered?
Pretty sure that "no thanks, stupid bitch" means I will decline the opportunity to give you $35 for 12 seconds of advice.

Please indicate the main reason why you declined the fee-based technical support?
Maybe, just possibly, because I believe that a company shouldn't sell hunks of crap that are constructed with zero quality control just so that they can make more money when the customer has to deal with technical support.

Overall, how would you rate this most recent telephone support event from HP? Please use a scale from 0 to 10 where "10" means "Outstanding and "0" means "Unacceptable."
0 - which in this case, means holy shit was this a waste of my time and your company sucks. And oh yes, you are unacceptable.

Using the same scale from 0 to 10, please rate your satisfaction with the technical support agent who assisted you.
Not to sound redundant, but 0.

Thank you for taking the time to participate in this survey. Your responses are valuable to HP and will help improve service and support.
Yeah, right. And I'm going to become a vegetarian and start homeschooling my kids.

After I calmed down from the hellacious phone conversation with the clueless tech support agent who was incapable of using any common sense, I went online and found a solution to the malfunctioning printer issue myself. In the process, I came across several posts about Hewlett Packard's crappy service, including:
  • By far the worst support EVER!
  • I am fighting with the support in GOD-DAMNED India!
  • I am disappointed that everything with your company is money.
  • HP customer service is horrible.
  • I will never buy another HP product ever!
  • This is where they make their money since they have such a lousy product.
  • The warranty is up by one day and they want $100 for support.
  • Pathetic - those are the only words to describe HP's quality control and customer service.
  • I have had the worst experience with HP.
Okay, so I'm not alone in my hatred for this company, which makes me happy. And the fact that the pictures were eventually printed with the correct colors made me happy. And listening to Zach quiz Zoe on Spanish words, and hearing her respond correctly, made me really happy. She knew that:
  1. hola = hello
  2. rojo = red
  3. verde = green
  4. adios = goodbye
  5. vamos = let's go
  6. uno = one
  7. Dora the Explorer = moron
  8. margarita = mom

Monday, December 6, 2010

Low-Income (Gingerbread) Housing

I don't know what it is that possesses people this time of year, but suddenly everyone thinks it's a great idea to try to construct a house made of baked goods. I overheard two suit-wearing men at Costco contemplating the purchase of a gingerbread house kit, thinking it would be so much fun to put together and display at the office. A friend of mine on Facebook put a kit together with her kid and instead of creating a memorable moment, it resulted in this status update: "Why can such a nice holiday tradition such as building gingerbread houses go so wrong?? ...grrrr.). I've seen several moms caving in to the pleas of small children, voluntarily putting a kit in their cart, completely oblivious to the torture they're about to put themselves through. I've wanted to intervene and tell all of these people NO! DON'T DO IT! YOU WILL FOREVER HATE THE HOLIDAYS AND THE SMELL OF NUTMEG IF YOU PURCHASE THAT PRODUCT! but then I think, hell - if I suffered through it, then so should they.

(originally posted on December 15, 2009)

I don't bake very often and when I do, I'm a big fan of pre-made cookie dough. I don't have to bring the butter to room temperature, cleanup is minimal and I don't end up with six-dozen cookies in the house. Yet for reasons that I can't explain, Christmas motivates me to actually drag out the stand mixer, soften butter, buy chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk and bake from scratch. I don't make anything very extravagant, but at least it's something that doesn't come in a yellow package with the words "Do not consume raw cookie dough" printed in two different locations. And by the way, if you eat an entire thing of raw cookie dough and end up spending a little extra time in the bathroom with a stomach ache, don't get pissed off at Nestle.

So anyway, back to Christmas. Every year I manage to decorate a fake tree, hang stockings, wind some garland around my railings, drink cocktails and bake some cookies. I never ruin perfectly good booze with eggnog, wear "festive" sweaters, sing Christmas carols in public and, with the exception of 2002, I never make a gingerbread house.

Several years ago, when Charlie was four, he found a gingerbread house kit at Target. Since assembling kits of any type are pretty much my own little slice of hell, I tried to talk him out of it, offering to buy him new Legos or cigarettes instead. Unfortunately, he was completely obsessed with purchasing this nightmare-in-a-box. Yes, I know I could have just said "No" and left the store with the sad child in tow, but for some reason I thought maybe it would actually be fun! After all, the box claimed that it was: "A perfect Christmas craft for the entire family. A real holiday treat."

Turns out, it would have been more fun to spend a couple hours exfoliating my face with a cheese grater. The roof with "shingle-like embossing" was cracked, the frosting sucked, the "sparkling starlight mints and jewel-tone jelly beans" were stuck together, and after seeing that our house wasn't going to be the whimsical palace that he had envisioned, Charlie wanted nothing to do with our gingerbread-flavored Habitat for Humanity masterpiece. I was about to drop the whole kit into the garbage, make a much needed drink and breathe a sigh of relief, but Doug made me put the damn thing together so he could make a video and laugh. So even though I may have built a gingerbread house worthy of condemnation, at least I was able to contribute to his holiday cheer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Stranger's Lap

Believe it or not, sometimes I'm nice. Well, at least in Zoe's eyes I'm nice. Last night, if you were to get my boys' opinions, I'm a horrid, horrid person.

Normally on Thursday nights, the boys finish up their tennis lesson and then spend an hour and a half scarfing pizza and playing ping pong with friends at the club while Zoe has her lesson. But, because of the need to fit 25 things into a schedule better suited to accommodate 18 things, not to mention the potential for a winter storm this weekend, with a little request from Zoe best summed up as WHEN AM I GOING TO SEE SANTA thrown into the cornucopia of chaos, occasionally things need to be rearranged. As a result, last night did not fall under their category of Super Fun.

In order to avoid giving them the opportunity to verbally object to the schedule change, I texted Zach from the car with a little something like "Santa mall meet me in parking lot now." Since I didn't get a reply in the form of either a message or the sight of a boy coming out the door, I followed this message up with a phone call that included phrases like "I know you don't want to but you have to, I don't want to hear it, it will not take forever, yes I know you hate malls, yes malls are stupid" and finally "GET IN THE CAR!"

We hadn't taken four steps inside the automatic door before Zach's I HATE MALLS chant began. Keeping in mind that I hate malls too, and considering the fact that the first thing we were subjected to was the olfactory assault courtesy of the Macy's cosmetics department, this chant did not boost my Christmas spirit and I started to feel a little claustrophobic. Fortunately, he broke into the second verse of his chant, and it went a little something like this: I hate malls and I'm hungry.

After "dinner" in the food court, during which I felt like I was trapped in a John Hughes movie - the lighting, the bad Christmas music being piped in, the neon Sbarro sign with the burned out "o", the teenagers making out and the exhausted woman forcefully shoving her crying, snowsuited child into a stroller - we wandered around trying to find Santa's Village. As soon as I saw the tips of the fake evergreens in the distance, the boys decided to head to the bathroom. I'm sure Santa wishes that more kids would make this a priority before they sit on his lap.

Zoe and I waited in the shortest Santa line I've ever seen (aka we were the only people in line) and after (hopefully) washing their hands, the boys joined her. I pulled out my phone to snap a couple pictures, and that's when Bi-Focal-Wearing Helper Elf quickly intervened.

Elf: Excuse me, no pictures allowed. You need to buy something.
Me: But I don't want anything. I just want a picture.
Elf: Then you can buy a picture.
Me: But I don't want to buy a $17 8x10. I want a $0 picture.
Elf: Well, usually people buy pictures.
Me: I just want to take one picture. I promise I won't tell.
Elf: How about a keychain? Or a magnetic frame?
Me: I don't want a keychain or frame. I just want a picture.
Elf: Well, I guess if I don't see you take the picture...
Me: Merry Christmas.

Santa turned out to be pretty cool. He thanked my boys for cooperating with their mom, said they are nice kids and told them to enjoy their much-needed time off from school during the Christmas break. He didn't throw in any fake Ho-Ho-Ho's or rub his bowl full of jelly or bother to share any wacky tales from the North Pole, all of which my boys appreciated and, judging by the smile on her face, I'm sure Zoe didn't miss.

On our way out (which, by the way, was expeditious due to Zach's saying "Do you know the way to the car? Yes? Well, then, let's go straight there making zero extra turns, without stopping to look at anything.") Zoe asked me the question that all parents dread: Was that Santa real?

I stopped walking (inducing an eye roll from Zach who, after throwing his arms in the air, kept walking), looked at Zoe and without a hint of doubt in my voice said, "Well of course he's real. Who else would it be?"

Yes, I looked my child in the eye and lied. But I am NOT losing the Santa card to a six-year-old. After all, it's still three weeks until Christmas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Greetings! We're Better Than You!

Ever since our first kid entered the world 14 years ago, I have always sent out Christmas cards. And while I know plenty of people that are completely satisfied sending out a photo card from Walgreens featuring a recent snapshot of the kids posing in front of a snowman or the Christmas tree, I have always taken a different route. A much more time intensive, high maintenance, not very cheap, maybe I should be checking my sanity, route.

Since both of my boys were born at the end of August, I always had their pictures taken at some point during the month of September. And while I know plenty of people that are completely satisfied with the photo sessions at Sears, JCPenney or ProEx (which is now closed), I took a different route. A much more high maintenance, hey let's drive 45 minutes one-way, please don't have a meltdown while the photographer takes 150 pictures, so much for the $19.95 sitting fee, yes I actually am insane, route. But holy shit do we have some kick ass pictures of the kids, and every year there was always something presentable enough to be sent as a Christmas card.

After Zoe joined our family, we made exactly two more appointments with this photographer before I realized that, going forward, there was no way in hell I was ever going to have the time to make this trip again. For one, the boys were school-age so the luxury of weekday appointments was gone. For two, Zoe wasn't nearly as cooperative with the photographer as the boys had been, and three, I kind of wanted to stop being insane.

The upside of all this is that I now have one less obligation to worry about in the fall, the kids don't have to suffer through a lengthy photo session and the money that was once spent on prints and proofs can now be spent on other, more fun things (like tennis lessons and booze). The downside is that, from ages two to five, Zoe kind of got the shaft when it comes to professional pictures and I'm now responsible for making sure that at some point during the year, I take a picture of the kids that could be considered Christmas card-worthy.

For the last few years, I've sat down at the Mac, sifted through some pictures, maybe even come up with a little poem (and by the way, it's really hard to find a festive word that rhymes with 'vodka'), fit all of the above on a template, clicked "Buy Now" and had the cards in my hand before Thanksgiving. This year, though, it's December First and the only thing I'm holding is my coffee cup. Considering the cost of postage, my limited time, my incessant, inexplicable need to hand-address envelopes rather than use printed labels and my lack of holiday cheer in general, I'm thinking that 2010 is going to be the year for a no-go on the Christmas cards.

But then I started thinking that maybe I should send at least a little something, just so that people don't get their hopes up and wonder if I did finally fall of the face of the Earth. So who knows, maybe in the next couple days something will inspire me, a suitable picture of the kids will magically appear in iPhoto and a free hour or two will materialize, allowing me to click, drag, crop, edit out a zit and Buy Now. But, under no circumstances, no matter how much free time I find myself having to fill, will I be composing a newsletter like one of these:

(originally posted on November 16, 2009)

The Bragfest. "Dominic, at the age of eight, won the science fair at his private school, and his research is now being funded by The Mayo Cancer Center. The $25,000 tuition really is quite a bargain! Our stunning daughter, Shelby, got married in a captivating ceremony on the beaches of Aruba with 360 close friends in attendance, for only $675 per person. Stefan and I decided to downsize this year, saying goodbye to our beloved 23,000 sq. ft. chateau and 5 of our 11 household staff members. In June, we moved into a cozy 9,000 sq. ft. cottage, but still enjoy the afternoon sip of Dom Perignon!"

The "Thank God" Newsletter. "On this, the most glorious of holidays, I thank God for my health, my family, the food we eat, socks, and the paper that these Godly words are printed on. I thank God for giving me the fine motor skills necessary to grasp my pen, the ink in the pen, and giving me the ability to write these wonderful words that have been sent directly to me from Him. And even though the dog got hit by a car this year, Tim got laid off after devoting 28 years to his company, and grandpa Oscar got mauled by the combine, I know that these things happened because God wanted them to, and everything happens for a reason."

Too Much Information. "Sally had a wonderful year in 2009. After participating in Girl Scouts, cello lessons, gymnastics, ballet, riding lessons, cooking classes, and yoga, she hardly has time to eat her dinner of organic spelt and Tofurkey. Sally had an ear infection in February, a cold in April, another cold in March and an itchy elbow in July. After a trip to the emergency room, we were relieved to find out that the itch was just a mosquito bite. Now, about the other 5 kids..."

The Literary Wannabe. "Oh, the most wondrous of seasons, as I settle into the depths of the rich sepia leather upholstery covering my armchair, basking in the warm golden glow of the crackling and popping fire, a snifter of fine brandy near at hand, I feel overwhelmed with emotion thinking about the bountiful miracles that surround me each morn and eve. Oh, how my heart doth ache and throb, reflecting on the past days and joys that I have had the pleasure to witness. I become overwrought with emotion, pondering the future and all that it holds."

The Big Picture. Sometimes a photo card is more informative than the newsletters. Every year I seem to receive a family picture of kids and parents bundled up and posing by snow-covered evergreens. Everyone is in a coat zipped up to the chin, except for mom. Somehow she manages to stay warm wearing only a low cut v-neck sweater, with the evidence of how she spent last year's tax refund hanging out and on full display. Judging by the picture, though, it definitely is cold outside.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Brown Stain, Vol. 3

Everywhere I go, I hear people rejoicing about the fact that Thanksgiving creates a short week, and oh yeah man! A three-day week! This is going to kick ass only having to work for three days! Woo hoo! And while I know of several school districts that, in addition to Thursday and Friday, also have Wednesday (or, in some cases, the entire freaking week) off, my kids only have two days off. Some people might think this is a great situation, since kids in school means kids not at home. But unfortunately, all this means for us is that five days of school concerts, science projects, class parties and chaos have been crammed into three. Very. Busy. Days.

And it all started with first grade.

I don't know exactly when or how it happened, but a few weeks ago a note came home informing me that the first graders were going to be having a Fall Festival! and Oh boy is it ever going to be fun! I remember seeing a place for me to sign my name and thinking hmm, maybe this piece of paper shouldn't go directly into the recycling bin. Maybe I should sign it and send it back. Because maybe aliens are invading my body and I've lost all ability to think clearly and rationally and holy shit! I just volunteered to help out at the Fall Festival!

As the day approached, I was pretty sure I felt a scratchy throat, raspy cough, nasal congestion, Ebola virus, super ouchie paper cut, shin splints, or a combination of these and was thinking I had a good reason to cancel. And even if I did manage to make a miraculous recovery from my plague in time for the Fall Festival! I was sure that my presence wouldn't be missed. After all, tons of other parents were probably volunteering for the fun-filled Fall Festival! and I would just be standing around with nothing to do but point and smirk. Yeah, that's it. I just won't show up. Just as long as Zoe doesn't know that I was supposed to be there, because that would really suck if she walks around yelling "Where's my mom? Has anyone seen my mom? She was supposed to be here and she said that all of her compound fractures had healed up, so where is she?" But she hasn't mentioned anything, so I'm sure it's fine if I...

"Here mom! This note is for you! We have a party tomorrow and you get to come help! See, your name is right here next to the 'Thanks for offering to help out at the First Grade Fall Festival! See you tomorrow morning!' So you're coming, right?"

Seriously, how do I say no to that face? (cough...cough...sniffle)

So Tuesday morning arrives and I figure okay. I can do this. I'll just show up earlier than scheduled, snag the easiest game (because there is no way in hell I'm going to get stuck with Turkey Bowling), boss some kids around and at the same time, accumulate some major good mom points with my kid. No problem.

Well, there wouldn't have been a problem if it weren't for the fact that, much to my surprise, a Fall Festival! Leader Mom had stepped forward weeks ago, and she took it upon herself to pre-assign everyone to a game. I had to check "the list" to find out; A) which game I was in charge of and, B) the name of the other parent also assigned to my game. I broke into a panicy sweat. What if I had to hang out with Fanny for an hour? Or the Halloween Party mom? And what if I had to hang out with either of these women while face painting!? Oh my fucking hell! What have I gotten my control freak-self into?

As I walked up to check the list, I started having flashbacks of my college days. I felt like I was checking for my calculus grade after I had taken a test while completely hungover, and this just made me sweat more. And holy shit did I breathe a sigh of relief when I saw that I was assigned to Penny Toss with a mom that is super nice. This was good because in addition to the sweat, I was starting to feel nauseous.

So, Penny Toss -- easy enough. Toss a penny toward a piece of poster board that has "Toy, Sticker, Candy, Play-Doh" written on it and win a prize. I quickly drew a couple neanderthal-size feet on a piece of purple construction paper (see, this is why I will never be a good candidate for face-painting) and taped it to the floor so that the kids would know where to stand and, while chatting with the other mom, waited for the first kids to show up. And that's when it occurred to me: 120+ kids were going to be playing this game, and we had eight pennies. Count them...EIGHT.

While quickly making a mental note to not allow my hands to come within 20 inches of my face for the next hour no matter how much my nose itched, the game began and went a little something like this:
  1. Hand penny to child
  2. Pick penny up off of the floor
  3. Hand penny to child, which child grabs after pulling finger out of their nose
  4. Child tosses penny
  5. Penny rolls near garbage can before I pick it up off of the floor
  6. Hand penny to child
  7. Child tosses penny four feet further than necessary
  8. Pick penny up off of the floor
  9. Child puts penny in mouth, then tosses it onto board
  10. I gag a little bit, then pick the penny up off of the floor
And on and on this went, with me adding little variations here and there to keep things interesting. Small things like "Hey, if you land exactly right on this corner here, you win an Xbox" and then the kid would miss and I'd just shrug my shoulders. Or if a kid bitched about landing on the Play-Doh square (because honestly, they all just wanted the damn candy), I'd say "Well, you can take the Play-Doh or you can have a kick in the shin." They all thought I was pretty much insane, and now feel sorry for Zoe.

Even though it felt like the Fall Festival! was never going to end, I was finally able to make a break for it, decontaminate my hands and continue with my day. My very over-scheduled, chaotic, barely time to pee let alone make dinner and get everyone where they need to be day. Oh yeah, dinner. I guess I can't totally complain about making dinner, since I had a little help in that department. Or, at least, I thought I did.

Since I knew I would have exactly 23.7 minutes from the time I walked in the door from one kid's tennis lesson until we had to walk back out the door for the same kid's orchestra concert, I put the oldest kid in charge of turning a burner on in order to save time and get a pot of water boiling. I called him from the car, said "turn the burner on HIGH" and thought he'd be able to take things from there. After all, everyone can boil water, right? Or, maybe not right. As soon as I walked in the door, I sniffed the air and immediately knew that there was a hot burner in the house, but sadly it wasn't the burner that was directly under the pot of water. It was the one behind it. And did you know that rotini takes less time to cook than linguini? Just in case you were wondering.

And now you're probably wondering why this blog post is called "The Brown Stain, Vol. 3." There was "The Brown Stain" and "The Brown Stain, Vol 2.", so get to the brown stain already!

Okay, so while I was waiting for the water to boil, I noticed a brown smudge on the carpet. It wasn't a big spot, like the puppy had taken a dump in the house, it was small like someone had dropped a hunk of chocolate chip granola bar on the floor and then stood on it for a few minutes. I reached down, touched the still-sticky spot, smelled my fingers - and was about to ask who had been eating chocolate on the carpet - and then realized that I had just stuck my finger in a smear of dog shit. Yes, that's my life. My wonderful, glamorous, shitty finger life.

I tried to figure out how the hell it got there if the dog didn't crap in the house. Did he step in his own feces while he was outside? And if so, wouldn't that mean that there are little shitty footprints all over the house? And if that's the case, wouldn't it just be easier to burn the house down and start all over? Seriously, Oh! My! Gawd! Zach was all "No, no, see, I let him out and saw him take like the biggest crap ever. This is not my fault!" And I was all "I don't care if you saw him shit! Dude! I have shit on my finger!"

At this point, the dog ran away from me because he doesn't like it when I yell, and as I watched him run that's when I saw where the brown stain came from. Because it's pretty hard to miss a hunk of brown shit stuck to the ass of a cream-colored dog.

And I'll give you exactly one guess as to who was lucky enough to wipe the dog's ass.