Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'm Gonna Wash that Gray Right Out of My Hair


I am a woman of a certain age.

As a woman of a certain age, I am plagued with gray hair. Actually, the hairs I speak of are not really gray. That is a misconception. They are actually white. As white as the loathsome snow falling from the drab, depressing Minneapolis sky this afternoon.

Absent of all color, these hairs glow. Seriously. They glow.

And, while the rest of the hair sprouting from my head is relatively straight, these rogue white hairs grow in perfect curlicues that rival any hairdo Shirley Temple ever sported. They like to gather right above my ears and curl away from my head, giving me the appearance of a Hasidic Jew with traditional Peyot (yes, those curls have a name). My Peyot are not religious in nature. Nor are they a particularly attractive look for a forty-one year old pasty Midwestern lesbian.

So what do I do about it?

I color my hair. I color the hell out of my hair. Just last night, I spent three hours in a salon chair getting an all-over color, a partial foil, and something called a paint-between. It was quite the elaborate spectacle, but I was thrilled with the results. I washed that gray (incandescent white) right outta my hair!

So this evening, I am walking around Target—totally rocking my new blondish-brownish-reddish-not so ashy-and definitely not white well-blended foils—and notice several lesbian couples out shopping, as well. Because, as everyone knows, Target is a bastion of seething lesbianism. And I notice that almost every woman I see—strangely, they are all forty-somethings like me—has gray hair. Maybe not completely gray, but obviously un-colored. This got me thinking…

Why do lesbians not color their hair?

I would venture a guess that, compared to the female population at large, lesbians are less likely to dye their hair. Someone should do a study. A double-blind study aimed at proving or disproving my hypothesis. Sounds like an incredibly shrewd use of our tax dollars, don’t you think?

As I sit here thinking about my own group of friends and acquaintances, I have come to the stunning realization that the majority of them do not dye their hair. When we get together, there is an awful lot of radiant white peeking out from those perfectly coiffed flat tops.

So why is this? What is the purpose of allowing one’s hair to go gray gracefully? What does this say about the lesbian community? And, more importantly, what the hell does this say about me?

Am I shallow?

Am I vain?

Am I desperately clinging to any tiny semblance of my misspent youth that I can get my arthritic fingers wrapped around?

Bloody hell! Am I straight?!?

My partner, Ruanita, refuses to color her hair. Though she is 8 ½ years older than me, she has a LOT less gray hair than me—a fact that flings me headfirst into a deep crater of depression if I allow myself to dwell on it. Genetics are a bitch, huh?

I like to think that I am gray because I live with her and she is not gray because she lives with me, but Ruanita would probably disagree. And likely curse at me profusely.

When I ask her about coloring her hair, she simply replies, “I don’t want to.” She likes her gray hair. She feels like she earned every hard-won gray hair on her head.  She wears them—the few of them that are there—as a badge of honor. A testament to her life experience. An outward symbol of her hard-earned wisdom and no-nonsense gumption.   

I, on the other hand, like pretty colors.

(Fuck. I am shallow.)

I like when my hair is blondish-brownish-reddish-not so ashy-and definitely not white. It makes me feel good about myself. I feel more confident when I feel less old and frumpy. And confidence is a good thing, right?

Perhaps I am in denial about my age. Perhaps I am too invested in my personal appearance. (Of course, if this were true, logic would dictate that I would get my ass off the couch, lose some weight, and maybe shave my Yeti-like legs on occasion.) Perhaps I need to just let myself go gray gracefully and work on my more pressing psychological issues instead.

I don’t know.

But I find the whole gray lesbian phenomenon fascinating.  

What about you?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Momma Told Me There'd Be Days Like This

There are days when you think you are actually doing pretty well at this parenting gig. Days when your children seem almost content. Almost happy. Days when you are in the zone—the parenting zone. You all know what I mean, right? Days when you look at your children and you think maybe—just maybe—their financial futures will not be riddled with the pock marks of extensive therapy debt. Days when you see nothing in their future but promise and success and roaring accolades.  Days when their little souls seem at peace and their little psyches intact. All because you are one fucking badass mother.

Then there are days like today.

Days when you forget to dress your children in green because, as a forty-one-year old mother of three who barely remembers to pee most days, you are incapable of remembering a holiday that is synonymous with drunken abandon.  You have no time for green beer. Days when you pick up your eleven-year-old son from school grasping his bicep and wincing in pain. Days when he declares today the worst day. Ever. In the history of days. Days when he says to you, “There is apparently some thing in middle school where people are allowed to punch you if you don’t wear green. Mom, why didn’t you tell me to wear green?” You don’t know how to respond, so you only say, “I’m sorry, son.” Because “I forgot to dress you in green because, frankly, I simply do not have even an infinitesimal bit of available space left in my brain at the moment because I am too busy trying to figure out how we are going to pay for the $7,000 in dental work you are getting next week” seems a bit too harsh.

There are days when your youngest son gets a new video game he ordered in the mail. A video game for a game system you do not own. A Nintendo GameCube video game that he was dying to have and insisted on spending his $30 on despite your warnings that there was no way a GameCube game would play on his Nintendo Wii system no matter what the idiot hacker on YouTube said. His little heart leaps for joy as he tears open the manila packaging. And when it does not play in his Wii system—just as mommy had warned him—he falls into a deep, deep depression. He assumes the fetal position on the couch and refuses to speak for an hour or so until he falls asleep. When you wake him for dinner, he refuses to eat. When you put him in the tub for bath time, he once again assumes the fetal position—under water this time—taking on the appearance of a disturbingly large, scrawny fetus. Now he is in bed. Moaning. That his eye hurts. And his leg hurts. And his penis hurts. You discover, to your utter disappointment that the apple does not fall far from the tree. He is an emotional hypochondriac in much the same way his momma is an emotional eater.

There are days when you say the unthinkable to your daughter. Days when (after enduring a visit from your homeowner’s insurance adjustor, and a couple of long calls with your banker, and a pamphlet in the mail about your 20th—TWENTIETH!!—college reunion) you look your beautiful, happy, enthusiastic daughter in the eye at ten minutes to eight o’clock and you actually say, “Please, Sophie. Please, for the love of GOD, find something to do for the next ten minutes that does not involve being right in my face.” There are days when your daughter calls you mean. And slams her door. And refuses to kiss you goodnight. And flings her skinny little body on her bed with the force of F5 tornadic winds.  There are days when you know you are a shitty parent. You just know it in your gut the same way you know that you need to put down the fucking Oreos and eat something green.  

But now that everyone in the house is mad at you—with the exception of the dog, but she’s not very bright—you are going to bed and putting this horrible day to rest.

Tomorrow is a new day.

God help us all.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Pucker Up!

Every morning on my way into work, I listen to NPR on the radio. Yes, I am one of those people. As a matter of fact, any time I am in the car—with the exception of when Ruanita is in the car with me because she doesn’t put up with my pretentious shit—I listen to NPR. In my defense, I watch very little television—with the exception of BBC programming (God, I sound incredibly white and remarkably old)—so I get most of my information regarding news and current events from the internet and the radio.

This morning was an exception to that rule. For the first time in 2014, the air temperature is expected to climb above freezing here in balmy Minneapolis. It’s practically going to be 40 degrees today! I was feeling particularly festive this morning as I thought of pulling my flip-flops out of hibernation. MPR’s coverage of the crisis in Ukraine simply did not match my festive mood, so I turned to my 2nd favorite radio station to listen to a little Katie Perry.

The disc jockeys (is that still what they’re called or am I simply bolstering my geriatric white woman status?) were prattling on about a survey of listeners they had done the day before. The question up for debate was this:

Do you kiss your children on the mouth?

The overwhelming consensus among Twin Citians was a resounding no. Apparently, it feels “awkward” and “weird” and “uncomfortable” to kiss one’s children on the mouth. Rather than singing loudly off key to a little Katie Perry “Roar” on this bright and sunny morning, I am now questioning whether or not I am an abhorrent deviant.

Shit. Not the plan, people.

Okay, so let’s be honest. I kiss my kids on the mouth. And often. I also kiss them on the cheeks and on the tops of their heads and occasionally on their hands. When I do kiss them on the mouth, it is not a lingering kiss. There is no swapping of spit. No tongue action. There is nothing remotely passionate about the kiss. It is a peck usually followed by a big hug as they are rushing out the door to school or climbing under their covers for the night.

I do not find it awkward. Or weird. Or even a little bit uncomfortable. We are an incredibly affectionate household. We snuggle while we watch TV. We hold hands when we walk through Target. My 11 year old son still climbs in bed with his mommas for a little bright and early “Lukie sandwich” loving on Sunday mornings. Does this make us deviants?

We are all human beings. And humans crave the touch of other humans. The touch of another person makes us feel alive. It makes us feel secure. And loved. And protected. And honored. It makes us feel safe in an otherwise scary world.

Why would I not want to give all of this to my children?

I would argue that there is nothing even remotely sexual about kissing your children on the mouth and that avoiding it for fear of sexual subtext is unhealthy. It is sexualizing something that is in no way sexual. That, to me, is “awkward” and “weird” and “uncomfortable.”

Europeans kiss everyone on the mouth. It’s a symbol of affection and nothing more. And they possess an infinitesimally tiny percentage of the American hang-ups and prudishness revolving around sex. Further proof that I should have been born British, but I digress.

So are Ruanita and I truly in the minority here? Do you kiss your children on the mouth? Is it weird?

And more importantly, where the hell are my flip flops?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Parenting in a Polar Vortex


I live in the tundra.

I am not kidding. During a normal winter, Minneapolis is a barely inhabitable throwback to mammoth-infested ice ages of eras past. In this—the year of multiple polar vortexes (vortices?)—Minneapolis is nothing short of hell on earth. If hell, you know, froze over and became a snowy, icy, land of biting wind and shoveling-induced back pain and pizza rolls for lunch because it is too damn cold to go out and get real food.

In short, we’re suffering here, people.

It takes a village to raise children, and my village is currently nursing a severe case of frostbite. We are in the midst of our 5th school closure day this winter for extreme cold, and this is how we are coping:



You can almost see their little brains turning to mush! These children need to be in school. We desperately need the public school system to instill a good work ethic and a love of learning in our children. Left in my care, drool is starting to form at the corners of their cute little mouths. Their eyes are glassing over and their poor pointer fingers are succumbing to cramps typically associated with 90-year-old arthritics rather than seven-year old Minecraft junkies.

Take them to the zoo, people say. Take them to a museum, friends muse. Make them read a book, strangers advise.

Zoology. Art. Literature.

These are all noble pursuits. That is, these are all reasonable pursuits were one to reside in heaven. Or even on Earth. But in hell?

Despite our descent into hell, Mom and Momma still have to work. There is no time for Zoology and Art and Literature when both moms work a 40-hour week. These people are supposed to be in school, remember?

Parenting in Minneapolis in the midst of a polar vortex looks a little something like this:

• Netflix. Round the clock. Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t really that inappropriate, is it?

• Asinine YouTube videos of fruit that insults people. And cute puppies. Lots of cute puppies.

• Sitting in silence while we stare intently at little blinking dots on individual 7-inch screens.

• Trying to schedule meals for children who are “not hungry” because their parents are too lazy/put upon to curb their round the clock ingestion of sugary snacks the parents have managed to convince themselves are an acceptable cure for pre-pubescent boredom. (Also known as If-You-Can-Reach-It-Yourself-You-Can-Eat-It Syndrome.)

• “Sure, wear your pajamas all day!” Logic would dictate wearing pajamas every day would result in less laundry, but laundry somehow defies the laws of physics and the natural order of the universe. Weird.

• “They haven’t been outside, so do they really need a bath this week?”

• “No, you don’t need to comb your hair. We’re not going anywhere."

• “Yes, you still need to brush your teeth despite getting a pass on all other forms of personal hygiene. If your teeth rot, mommy will have to explain to the dentist why I thought cupcakes were an appropriate breakfast food. Mommy really doesn’t want to have that conversation.”

• “We really need to think about buying more pillows and blankets for the living room.”

• “Oh, Nicky, where have you been for the last three hours?”

It’s not pretty, people. It’s not pretty at all. Let’s say a collective prayer that Minneapolis Public Schools are open tomorrow. If not, my children may end up being beyond all hope of reasonable rehabilitation.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thoughts on Giving Thanks

It’s that time of the year again. Time for the obligatory giving of thanks. Many people began on November 1st posting a different thing they were thankful for each day on Facebook. Though I find this to be a perfectly wonderful practice, it is one that I have neither the will power nor the stamina to engage in. If I had even an infinitesimal grain of willpower, there would not be a nearly empty bag of snack-sized Snickers bars in my freezer. And as for stamina, well, let’s just say I get exhausted walking from my car to the house.

So here I sit on the eve of Thanksgiving pondering gratitude and the role it plays in my life. Of course, I am thankful for my partner and my children. I am thankful for my extended family and good friends. I am thankful for the roof over my head and the Snickers in my belly. I am even thankful for my dog despite her bad breath and bed-hogging tendencies.

All of those are a given. Of course I am thankful for those things. Who isn’t?

But tonight I find myself thinking of gratitude in a different way. This evening I find myself thankful for the boredom in my life. Thankful for the mundane. For the sameness of my days. For the predictability.

That sounds weird, huh?

Right now, I am sitting in the same chair I have sat in every evening for the last three years or so. It is worn. It is covered in dog hair. It has a couple of rips in the fabric from misplaced puppy nails. My daughter is nestled in my armpit, as she is almost every time I sit here. But it is familiar. It is comfortable. It cradles my butt just so. Many people are not lucky enough to have a ratty old chair that feels like home.

I am thankful for the Disney movie on the television right now. The movie I have seen no fewer than 325 times. But I am thankful for the monotony of this movie. The fact that I can recite the dialogue word for cringe-inducing word means that I have been blessed enough to share this hour and a half with my children—snuggled together—no less than 325 times. Many parents aren’t that lucky.

I am thankful for my children’s arguments. Their perpetual, ludicrous, mind-numbing fights. The sibling altercations that drive me to wine. And Snickers. And wine. Those fights mean that my children have voices. And opinions. They are able to form a coherent argument. They have the mental capacity to make their needs and wants known. To make them known loudly and passionately, at times. Many children are not that lucky.

I am thankful for the constant stream of paperwork that comes home in my children’s backpacks every day. The spelling words. The algebra word problems. Geometry. Fractions (God, I despise fractions). Science projects (build a Rube-Goldberg machine? Seriously, Mrs. Hill?). The never-ending reading assignments that I have to coerce my children to complete with threats of permanently unplugging them. And the art projects! The carefully crafted art projects that make their way to my house by the dozens every single day. The art projects that cover every available flat surface in my house. The art projects that I secretly smuggle out with the trash every opportunity I get. These are all evidence of the education my children are receiving. A solid education received from a good public school. An education that will unlock numerous opportunities for them. Many children are not so lucky.

I am thankful for days like today when Ruanita and I bicker. When she tells me to leave her alone. When I tell her to stop being so crabby. The snapping. The sarcastic remarks. The childish displays. Our spats mean that we trust one another enough to show the ugly side of ourselves. The infantile and selfish and asinine. The erratic and irrational and unbalanced. I trust that she will not leave. She trusts that I will overlook. We know that we are here for the long haul. Many couples are not that lucky.

I've spent a lot of time lately involved in the “excitement” that is other people’s lives. The unpredictability. I’ve seen firsthand the anxiety and insecurity that comes from a lack of stability. And I find myself feeling eternally grateful for my boring little life. I will take nine o'clock bedtimes and Friday pizza nights any day!

Today, I give thanks for the mundane. For the banal. For days both dull and trite. Today I thank my lucky stars for the utterly ordinary moments that make up my sublimely extraordinary life. 

I am one lucky woman and I know it.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Who's the Boss?

This week, I am coming to the stunning realization that my eldest child is no longer the adorable little boy I first fell in love with. No, my son is a middle schooler, and suddenly the entire world is “boss.”

Lucas is definitely boss. His brother is usually boss. His sister is occasionally boss. Fried chicken is boss. Coke is boss (though he is rarely allowed to drink it). Video games are boss. Video games where lots of random stuff blows up are especially boss. Most people on television are boss. Even the dog is boss on occasion.

I am not boss. I am the epitome of anti-boss-ness, apparently.

And don’t be a total dweeb and say that someone is a boss. Boss is not a noun. Boss is an adjective, idiot.

The closet correlation for the word “boss” that I can come up with from my own vernacular is the word “rad.” I remember thinking lots of things were pretty damn rad back in the day. Kirk Cameron was rad. I mean, obviously. Recording songs from Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 onto my portable tape recorder was pretty rad. Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders was rad. And if we got married and he took my last name instead of me taking his—because we were going to be, you know, like, a progressive 1980s couple—then he would be Ralph Ralph and that would be SO RAD. Molly Ringwald was one rad redhead in Sixteen Candles. She was even more rad in The Breakfast Club. By the time Pretty in Pink came out, I was dying my hair red and trying the Molly pout on for size (strangely, it looked better on her). Huarache sandals and Sun-In were pretty rad. Lee Press-on Nails were also rad. Standing in the television department of our local K-Mart watching the video to Thriller for the first time (we did not have cable…hence, no MTV) was a life-altering rad moment. Footloose was the best movie ever made. It was so rad, it was practically tubular. Oh…wait…maybe that was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Regardless, I experienced many rad things in my adolescence. But being rad is now a relic of the past. These days, I now know, the term is boss.

Here are the things—at forty-one years old—that I find extremely boss.

Sleeping past 6:30am is boss. Peeing without an audience is boss. Children bathing themselves is pretty boss—even if I have to threaten to smell them afterwards to “make sure.” Strawberry margaritas are boss. As is strawberry cheesecake. The BBC is boss. Ignoring the strange noises coming from my basement playroom because I am lounging on the couch in a kid-free living room is pretty boss. Re-watching episodes of Sherlock on Netflix while the kids dismantle the basement board by board is somewhat boss…if I don’t allow myself to think about the whole basement dismantling thing. Telling the kids in no uncertain terms that I will NOT be downloading Minecraft onto my new iPhone is boss. Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks are boss. Being finished with my Christmas shopping a month early is boss. Restaurants that do not have chicken fingers anywhere on the menu are boss. Movies that have no ties to Pixar or Disney are pretty boss. Nights without 5th grade homework are Über boss.

And whether my son agrees or not, I like to think I am pretty damn boss!

When I am not busy being so bodaciously rad, that is.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wild Things

“I don’t have any friends.”

The air leaves my lungs all at once in a violent burst, as though I have been punched in the abdomen. I grip the steering wheel tightly and keep my eyes on the broken white line running down the middle of the road. The dirty slush lining the streets of our modest neighborhood is an indicator that spring will soon arrive in Minneapolis.

“What do you mean, Nicholas? Of course you have friends.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Nicholas’ twin sister pipes in from the booster seat adjacent to Nicholas. “He doesn’t play with anybody at school.”

"How would you know that, Sophie? You’re not even in his class.”

“All the first graders have recess together.”

“Do you not play with your brother at recess?”

“Sometimes I do. Most of the time he doesn’t want to play.”

Here we go again. Talking about Nicholas as though he is not sitting right here in the minivan with us. As though he is not present. He has gone missing again.

“Why don’t you play with your sister, Nicholas?”

I glance in the rearview mirror. Nicholas is staring out the window. His petite features and wispy blonde hair are reflected in the window against a background of white and gray. Everything is white and gray in March. Nicholas appears deep in thought. I wonder briefly where he goes when we all forget he’s there.

“Nicholas?” I say again.

Sophie kicks his foot across the space separating their bucket seats. “Momma’s talking to you, Icky.”

Since she first learned to speak, Sophie has referred to her brother as Icky. It’s not a commentary on his cootie status, but rather a simple mispronunciation of Nicky. I find it simultaneously endearing and aspersing. Nicholas has ever seemed to mind.

“What?” he asks, his forehead pressed against the window. He doesn’t look at me.

“Why don’t you play with your sister at recess?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to.”

Of course he doesn’t want to. He’s a six year old boy. Why would he want to play with his sister and her friends? But what about the boys? Why doesn’t he play with the boys?

Nicholas has never been like other little boys. He’s not your typical rough and tumble boy’s boy. He is the baby of our family—three years younger than his older brother and one minute younger than his sister. Nicholas is the runt of our litter. He is the child I have always worried about the most. Though I love my children equally, he tends to require more of my time. More energy. More focus. More patience.

Even before he was born, I worried about Nicholas. I had vivid and disturbing dreams when I was pregnant with him. In all the dreams, his sister was perfectly normal and he was born with one debilitating disease after another. Or he was missing limbs. Missing organs. Or he was simply missing.

“Who do you play with, Nicky?” I ask.

“No one,” he says. “I like to sit and watch.”

And that sums up my youngest son. A watcher. An observer. A bystander.

“I’m worried about Nicholas,” I say later that evening as I climb into bed next to my wife.

“So what else is new?” Ruanita replies.

“No, I’m serious. I don’t think he has any friends.”

“He’s young. Lucas didn’t really have friends until he was in the 3rd grade.”

“I know, but I think Nicholas is different.”

Ruanita lays the book she is reading on her chest and looks at me over the top of her glasses. “Shannon, you worry entirely too much about him. He’s perfectly fine. He’s a happy boy.”

“I know, but I can’t help it.” I climb into bed, kiss Ruanita lightly on the lips and rest my head on my pillow. I watch the shadows on the wall cast by the ceiling fan dancing in the pale light coming from Ruanita’s bedside lamp. After a few moment of silence, I turn to Ruanita.

“Do you think Nicholas is gay?”

She does not look up from her book. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”

“No, of course it doesn’t matter.”

“Then why worry about it?”

“I don’t know. It’s harder for gay men.”

“How do you figure?”

“People can be cruel. Girls can be cruel, but boys—”

“Things are changing, Shannon. It’s not like when we were young. I mean, we’re actually getting married next summer. Did you ever think that would happen in Minnesota?”

“I know things are changing. But are they changing fast enough? Fast enough for Nicholas?”I grab the book from Ruanita’s hand and lay it on the bed between us. “I’m serious. The world is full of monsters. Wild things, like in that book Nicholas loves so much.”

“Yeah, but the world is also full of good people. Nicholas is a sweet boy. He’ll be fine.”

“But how can you be so sure?” I feel tears welling in the corner of my eyes. I don’t want to cry. Ever since my son spoke the words “I don’t have any friends” that afternoon, I had been in a state of acute turmoil. Was it my fault he had no friends? Was it something I did? Or didn’t do? Am I too dismissive of him? Not encouraging enough?

“Listen, Shannon.” Ruanita looks me square in the eye. “You sound like one of those idiots who blame themselves for their kids being gay.” I flinch at her accusation, but Ruanita continues undeterred. “Nicholas is going to be who Nicholas is going to be. You can’t change him. You can’t make him into something he’s not. He’s a good kid. A smart kid. He is going to be perfectly okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, I’m not sure.” Ruanita reaches for my hand and squeezes it tightly in her own. “I am not sure about anything. But I’m hopeful.”

I lie in bed and consider her response. I know she is right. I must have hope.

Hope.

It’s really the only thing we have to hang onto as parents. We hope that we are doing right by our children. We hope that we are not screwing them up beyond all recognition. We hope that our insecurities do not become their insecurities. That our missteps do not become their missteps. We hope that they grow to be better people than we think we are.

And, above all, we hope that the wild things of this world are gentle with the little people we so ferociously adore.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stellar Parenting Moment #1865

Ruanita and I are phenomenal parents. Seriously. I would even go so far as to say we are blatant over-achievers. As proof of our rock star status, I will share the following little story with you.

Ruanita was feeling rather crabby this evening. Though it is only Wednesday, it had been a particularly tough week for both of us and it was wearing on Ruanita. I suggested—no, I am not a nutritionist nor a mental health professional— that it might prove beneficial to stuff her anger with carbs. As such, we found ourselves cruising down the Crosstown on our way to tour Italy at the Olive Garden, tersely humming along to Bruno Mars on the radio, when Nicholas—suddenly and unexpectedly as though it had been eating at him for months—said to me in his usual deadpan voice…

“Momma, sometimes I think you don’t listen to me. Like one time, I was playing Pac-man and I told you I died and all you said was, ‘That’s nice.’”

Then, without missing a beat, he turned to Ruanita, sitting smugly in the passenger seat beside me, and said…

“And you, mom. Whenever I try to talk to you, you always say, ‘Move, Nicky. I'm trying to watch Dr. Phil.’”

So there you have it. My youngest child’s straightforward and concise assessment of our parenting abilities.

What can I say?

We are obviously stellar parents.

The Boy of Summer?

Nicholas needs a hobby. He needs an extracurricular activity. Sophie has Girl Scouts. Lucas has choir. Nicholas....well, Nicholas does nothing but play video games.

Ruanita and I are big proponents of our children being well-rounded. Of finding a passion. I can't really say that Girl Scouts is Sophie's passion, but at least she is engaging in some sort of activity until she finds her passion. As for Lucas, I can honestly say that I believe he has found his passion in singing. He loves it. He sings all the time. Seriously. All. The. Time.

This week, he is going on retreat with the Metropolitan Boys Choir. Two full days away from his mom at a camp ground with a bunch of other boys singing Latin choral music. And he is pumped! He is as pumped as I would be about a free latte from Starbucks. Or a half-off sale on socks are Target. Or the opportunity to pee alone. Seriously pumped.

But Nicholas is a different story. He has yet to find his passion. Being a loving and dutiful mother, I believe it is my responsibility to help steer him toward his passion. Therefore, I have spent the last year combing the recesses of my brain trying to come up with an activity for Nicholas. What have I come up with?

Baseball.

Okay. You're right. On the surface, Nicholas does not really seem like the athletic type. At all. And he is not exactly outdoorsy, so he would not easily be mistaken for one of the "Boys of Summer." But he has played a bit of baseball in our own back yard. Okay...it may have been with a plastic bat. And it may have been an abnormally large plastic ball. But my logic is sound. Hear me out.

He is good. He is the only one of my three children who could hit the ball at all when we've played baseball wiffleball in the back yard. He has amazingly honed eye/hand coordination--likely a result of his much-too-early introduction to a joystick. But he is spot on. He hits the ball almost every time. He hits is hard, too. And he enjoys hitting the ball. He giggles with glee when we play. He's even mentioned that he may want to play baseball one day. I take that as positive affirmation of my Nicholas-the-future-major-leaugue-baseball-player theory.

At least, I took that as positive affirmation. Until I discussed it with Nicholas in the car this evening. The conversation went like this:


Me: So, Nicky, what would you think about playing baseball next summer?

Nicholas: I don't know.

Me: You like baseball. You've told me so.

Nicholas: But you can get hit with a ball if you play baseball.

Lucas (chiming in uninvited): Someone has been killed playing baseball before, but it was, like, a hundred years ago.

Me: Thanks, Lucas.

Nicholas: What if I get hit in the head?

Me: Well, when you are up to bat, you wear a special helmet that protects your head. So even if you get hit, you won't get hurt.

Nicholas: So what if I get hit someplace other than my head?

Me: That's not likely to happen.

Nicholas: What if I get hit in my tummy?

Me: Your tummy?

Nicholas: Yeah, my tummy is very sensitive.

Me: Really, Nicholas?

Nicholas: Yeah, I don't want to play baseball. I might get hit in my sensitive tummy.

Me: I don't think the pitcher is aiming for your tummy.

Nicholas: What if I hit myself with the bat?

Me: Hit yourself?

Nicholas: What if I swing the bat and it keeps right on swinging and hits me in the back?

Me: So you don't want to play baseball because you might beat yourself in the back with a baseball bat?

Nicholas: Um...yeah.


So....scratch that. Back to the drawing board.

Origami, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Banner Week

Last week was a banner week for my children. Not only did we have one child in crisis—one crisis at a time is relatively manageable—but we had three children in crisis. At the same time. Where should I start?

Sophie
For the first time in their young lives, one of my children developed pneumonia. Was it Lucas who just so happens to be the sweetest, most loving child you will ever encounter when he is ill? No. Was it Nicholas who does nothing but sleep from the moment he contracts any illness until the moment he is completed germ-free and well again? No.

It was Sophie.

A sick Sophie is the bane of existence. She is not sweet. She does not sleep. When she is sick, my normally pleasant little girl becomes a roving beast. A monster who inhabits my bed, as well as my nightmares. A child who follows me from room to room—from one footstep to the next—complaining about how sickly she feels. Whining that her water isn’t cold enough. Her blankie isn’t warm enough. Her pillow isn’t fluffed enough. Her clothes are touching her. Her older brother is looking at her. Her younger brother is breathing her air. Her dog is inhabiting her Earth. Her mother is talking on the phone in her presence.

Sophie missed five days of school last week. An entire week! Her teacher was kind enough to send work home so she would not fall behind. Yeah, Sophie was as thrilled to see that as I was. And have you ever tasted liquid Zithromax? I accidentally tasted an infinitesimal drop and literally gagged on it. Getting Sophie to drink 6cc the first day and 3cc for four additional days was an exercise in not slamming your young child’s head against wooden table patience. On more than one occasion, I fully expected to be holding a handful of vomit by the time she was all done with her forty-minute display. I was never as happy as I was on Monday when I patted Sophie on her happy little fanny and sent her back to school.

Where she belongs.

Nicholas
Within days of the beginning of new school year, my youngest son was labeled a “frequent flyer” in the nurse’s office. This was not news to the school nurse. It was not news to me--I just so happen to have the nurse’s direct line on speed dial. It was not news to Ruanita, who has an uncanny ability to sense a fake injury or over-exuberant crying lag (usually related to “bumping his head” on the playground) the moment the telephone rings. It was only news to his new teacher.

Nicholas has an, um, unfortunate habit of hiding when he is nervous. I am not entirely sure where this instinct comes from. Probably something ancient and primal that is inherent within the complicated psyche of the human runt. Whatever the reason, my son is an escapist.

Last week, Ruanita and I had the pleasure of being told by Nicholas’ second grade teacher that he is highly intelligent. When Ruanita laughed unabashedly in the teacher’s face, she responded by saying, “No, I’m serious. He’s really smart.” As such, our little escape artist has been placed in an accelerated reading class taught by a rather imposing Mr. Anderson.

Mr. Anderson is big and loud and jovial. He often wears brightly-colored Hawaiian shirts. He always wears shorts. He greeted the class the first day by jokingly telling them that he was the meanest and best looking teacher in the entire school. Runt-ish little Nicholas immediately fled to the boys’ bathroom where he hid for the entire accelerated reading class period.

When Ruanita picked Nicholas up from school that day, she was met by Mr. Anderson who looked rather sheepish when he said, “Hmmm…your son is quite…um…literal…isn’t he?” Why yes, Mr. Anderson, he is. As a matter of fact, that is a perfect description of my son. He is literal. Extremely literal. He is the Sheldon Cooper of the elementary school set. He is also an escapist. And a frequent flyer in the nurse’s office.

I actually felt kind of bad for Mr. Anderson who, having not been warned of my son’s primitive tendency to flee and his lack of any discernable understanding of humor, called my house later that evening to check on Nicholas because he was afraid he had frightened Nicholas to the point of scarring him permanently. Fortunately, there was no scarring. My son remained in class the following day and every day since. He will remain there until his teacher cracks another joke that soars miles above Nicholas’ literal little head and forces him into hiding like the primordial cave-dweller he is.

Lucas
My eldest son currently has an F in Social Studies. All of his other grades are A’s and B+’s. How, you may wonder, has he procured a flunking grade in Social Studies?

He misplaces things.

He misplaces things big and small. Where are his glasses? He doesn’t know. What did he do with his math homework? He doesn’t know. Why is he not wearing underwear? He doesn’t know. You get the point. He loses everything.

Last week, when questioned about the flunking grade I discovered on the Parent Portal website, he informed me that he lost his Social Studies notebook. He is required to take notes in class each day and turn them in to his teacher. These notes are 60% of his grade. He had been taking notes on separate, random sheets of paper—which he had, of course, neglected to turn in—since losing his notebook the week before.

Do you know where you lost your notebook? I don’t know. Do you need a new notebook, Lucas? I don’t know. Shouldn’t you be turning in the notes you’ve taken? I don’t know. Have you talked to you teacher? Yes. What did she say? I don’t know.

So I did buy him a new notebook…which he immediately informed me he lost the following day. Then he found it. Then he turned in the notes he had, realized he had numerous more he was missing, received ten pages of notes from his teacher which he recopied over the weekend, then forgot to turn in yesterday because there was a fire alarm during Social Studies class.

(Are you exhausted yet?)

In addition, he lost the lock to his locker the same day he lost his second Social Studies notebook. How does one lose the lock to their locker? I mean, it is pretty much attached to your locker, right? It’s not like you take it anywhere with you. Unless you’re Lucas.

If you are Lucas, you take it off your locker, place it in your backpack, forgot you placed it in your backpack, report it missing to the office, ask your mom for money to purchase a new lock from the office, fret about memorizing a new locker combination, laugh like a dork when your mother finds it in your backpack, report it found to the office, put it back on your locker, and wait to do the whole thing over again next week. I am heartily looking forward to the winter when we will add his coat, boots, scarf, gloves, and hat to the Lost and Found rotation at school.

And you wonder why I don’t have time to update this blog on a regular basis?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Check it out!

My flash fiction piece, "Sixteen Ninety-Two," was published in the fall issue of Rose Red Review literary journal. Check it out here: http://roseredreview.org/2013-autumn/

A Murky Pit and a Warrior Princess

I have fallen into a pit. A murky, nebulous pit cleverly referred to as a midlife crisis. I know this to be true for the following reasons:

  1. For the last two weeks, I have watched almost every single episode of all six seasons of   Xena:Warrior Princess on Netflix . Historically, when I am in a state of despair or depression or anxiety, I turn to Xena. Weird, I know. I actually own the six season set on DVD (shhhh…please don’t tell anyone I know), though I have not watched them in years. But here’s the thing. Xena harkens back to a simpler time for me—the mid-1990s. A time when I had no
    children. No responsibilities. Not a care in the world. I was a new college graduate, working crappy jobs, not a penny to my name. It was a time when I had enough confidence (or unabashed stupidity) to move cross-country at a moment’s notice with nothing more than a box of CD’s, a hobbling, rusted-out truck, and 20 bucks to my name. And I had no doubt that I would be just fine. It was a time when I was just coming to terms with my sexuality and I was totally enamored of the “soul mate” status of the two main characters on Xena. I mean, what’s not to love about two ass-kicking, scantily clad chicks with no need for men? It was the campiest show on television at the time and I was smitten. So much so that twenty years later, it is still my go-to remedy for all that ails me. 
  2. I have this weird, inexplicable urge to do something drastic and reckless and completely out of character. Like getting a gigantic tattoo in a highly visible location. Or buying a huge-ass, gas-guzzling pick-up truck. Or better yet, a boat. A pogo stick! Or quitting my job, moving to a coastal town somewhere, and taking up (gasp!) macramé. Maybe buying a new house. Or at least all new furniture for our current house. Something. Anything. The middle-aged man putzing around town with a shiny new sports car and 20-something trophy wife is such a despicable cliché, but I have to say, I get it. I mean, I really get it.
  3. The song “Romeo and Juliet” by the Indigo Girls came on my iPod today at work and I almost cried. Again, harkening back. Simpler time. Outdoor concerts in Atlanta. Lesbianism. Feminism. Environmentalism. Liberalism. All those -isms that used to mean the world to me and are harder to fit into my complicated life these days.
  4. All I want to do it write. Preferably holed up in a coffee shop somewhere. With no one talking to me. Or looking at me, for that matter. If I could happen upon a cloak of invisibility (wow, my geekiness truly knows no bounds), I would be the happiest girl in the world.
  5. I can’t sleep. Or at least, I can’t sleep easily. My mind won’t settle. My thoughts refuse to calm. My muscles spurn all efforts to relax. I just lay there staring at the ceiling fan or playing Candy Crush on my iPad. And then, of course, there is the knowledge that Xena is hanging out downstairs. Waiting for me. It’s a lost cause. I can actually feel despondent brain cells expiring by the millions.
So what’s wrong with me? Why now?

I will be 41 years old next week—not a milestone birthday by any means. Shouldn’t I have wanted the giant tattoo and the macramé lessons this time last year?

In reality, I have a pretty good life. Actually, I have a pretty fucking great life. I have a partner (soon-to-be wife) who I adore. Somehow—and it’s a complete mystery to me—I manage to fall in love with her all over again at least once a week. My kids are amazing. Seriously. If you’ve met them, you know they are freaking phenomenal children. Smart, sassy, intelligent, well-spoken. Yes, they can be little shits at times. All kids can be. But on the great spectrum of children-we-could-have-been-blessed/cursed-with, they are firmly entrenched on the “fucking-exceptional-damn-how’d-we-get-so-lucky” side of the spectrum.

I am financially secure. By no means wealthy, but I have more money than my parents did when I was a child. I do not want for anything, within reason. (Except cable—a want for cable, but that is more a philosophical dispute than a financial issue.) My children do not have to know what it feels like to go without. I promised myself years ago that my children would never experience the crushing anxiety that accompanies a kid’s knowledge that her parents can’t pay the bills. I grew up that way (cancer took the family bread-winner of our family and my mom found herself a single parent of four at 28 years old), and I told myself my children would never know that fear. And they don’t.

Unlike the free-wheeling glory days of the 1990s, I have a good job now. A career, even. A career I enjoy. A job that makes me feel like a real, live, contributing adult. The first job at which I’ve truly cared about excelling. I’m not idiotic enough to blog about work, but suffice it to say that we are in the midst of a transition period at work, as all teams experience on occasion. The growing pains are more than a little stressful, and additional responsibilities are being placed on me daily, but I am sure we’ll come out on the other side intact and stronger than ever.

So where is this crisis coming from then? Is it simply a byproduct of growing older? A realization that things will never again be how they were in the 1990s? Or how they are now? Or how they’ll be next week? Or is it something more?

A sense of longing, perhaps? A longing for accomplishment. A longing for something to define my life. Maybe this is really a crisis of conscience. Am I doing enough? Am I being enough? Am I really the woman I want to be? For my children? For my spouse? For myself?

I don’t know. Maybe it's time to recreate myself. To become a better me.

Then again, I really just want to watch Xena with a blanket over my head and all the lights turned out. Is that so wrong?