McSupers: The Epic Battle Against Vegetables

February 10, 2014

Somewhere near Canada…

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Donovan was a mild mannered reporter for The Tattletale,

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a publication which specialized in reporting the antics of his brother, Ramsey

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to the slightly annoyed readership of his parents. One day, he got a call on his shoe phone.

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EVIL was afoot! The nefarious SuperDad (who, despite his name, was actually quite evil) was trying to feed vegetables to children!

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This was making the children very sad indeed.

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So Donovan alerted his team of fellow Superheroes, SuperRams and The Wild Woman, while he transformed into SuperVan!

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Soon they were ready to go!

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The team let SuperMom know they would need a ride to fight evil. SuperMom had to finish her coffee, which was the secret of her superpowers. 

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SuperMom loaded the small champions of justice into their Battle Wagon.

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They set off to save the day!

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When they reached their destination, SuperDad tried to keep The Wild Woman from playing in the street!

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But Donovan came to The Wild Woman’s rescue!

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Donovan shouted, “Stop, Evil Doer!”

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Then the caped children ran about the city block in wild and unpredictable ways…

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SuperDad became confused, and vulnerable to their attacks.

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The battle raged on and on!

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SuperRams became a gritty reboot of himself.

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Finally, the tide began to turn in their favor!

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At last….VICTORY!!!

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Good had conquered vegetables.

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The children celebrated by playing in the street.

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With one last victory WHOOP, it was time to go home.

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SuperRams tried to steal a car.

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He also tried to steal the Battle Wagon.

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SuperRams could be kind of a jerk sometimes. But finally, SuperMom arrived to collect the gang.

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Victory over vegetables was celebrated with a plate of brownies.

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The Seven Habits Of Totally Unemployable People

January 25, 2014

I am defecting from Team Stay At Home Mom to return to the working world at a customs brokerage. Not totally without regret. Certainly not without a modicum of mommy guilt. But instead of subjecting you to the many thoughts ping-ponging through my brain on the topic of “working” versus “stay at home” moms, here are seven changes I will need to make quickly to survive in the office.

Beard

I could totally rock this look.

1.) My Personal Hygiene. Beyond the obvious shift of upping my shower quota to greater than one per week, major preparations are in order to turn Frumpy Mom into Employable Person. I’m going to need to invest in a deodorant that doesn’t smell of the dollar bin at the grocery store, first off, and possibly change my signature scent, which is currently coffee breath and Febreeze. I will also have to deal with the hair situation. After baby number two, not only did my head hair become an ungodly mass of gray, white, silver, and black strands which defy the laws of both gravity and hairspray, but my whole face became of study of hair strand varieties. My eyebrows went the Hungarian peasant route, my upper lip could win me a spot on the East German Olympic Shotput team, and now every time I read “The Three Little Pigs,” it serves as a much needed reminder to pluck the hairs of my own chinny-chin-chin. Furthermore, nostril hair!? I thought it was a stock sit-com joke. But it is real.

Robe2.) My Fashion. With much dismay, I will have to take fuzzy bathrobes out of the rotation of things I wear with little to no shame on into the afternoon sometimes. And chances are fair that the company I’ll be working for has a “No Christmas Pajamas After Martin Luther King Jr. Day” policy. I long ago dismissed the notion I would ever dress “on trend,” but I think I’ll be able to recreate what I recall as being “professional attire.” But can I get out of the house sans all bodily fluids (and the occasional solids) that babies, toddlers, and kindergartners are intent on putting on me? I’d better invest in a very high quality, floor length rain poncho.

3.) Going To The Bathroom Alone. I realized a few days ago, with some horror, that I have not even tried to go to the bathroom alone since my eldest started opening doors. I have even stopped shutting the door completely. Why bother? So I have two days to get myself into a routine of causally walking to the bathroom, locking the door, taking care of the necessary business, calmly washing my hands, and emerging without toothpaste or Batman soap on my pants. Unless it’s now acceptable in the workplace to sprint to the toilet and start shouting instructions about which snacks are off limits. Speaking of which…

4.) Stop Monitoring Everyone’s Food And Beverage Intake. If I recall correctly, it’s considered rude, in the office to declare donuts off limits until you have finished your lunch. I must remember not to swipe Skittles out of coworkers hands and remove them to the safety of very high places. I must resist the urge to say “Please get yourself a drink of water” when I see sugary beverages being opened. And under no circumstances must I yell when I see food and drink being consumed in carpeted areas.

5.) Don’t Tell People What They Want Or Feel. While it is standard operating procedure at home to say inane things like “Oh, you want to pet the kitty,” or “Ramsey is angry because he is not allowed in the fireplace,” these are not going to be work-appropriate phrases. Which is why I dropped the cell phone provider whose scripted response was “I can understand how you would be frustrated by that.” I am not a toddler, T-Mobile. Do not use your “feeling words” with me. Still, it will be difficult to speak with angry truck drivers cursing a blue streak because they are stuck at the border without responding, “Okay, you’re having some trouble controlling your behavior right now. I need you to have a nap.”

Stinkbutt6.) Making Up Names. I make up a lot of names for the children in the course of a typical day at home. Stinky McStinkerton. Filthface DisasterPants. Pantsless Joe From Hannibal, MO. Duke Smellington. I have high hopes that none of these will be pertinent in a work setting. But to be safe, I should eliminate “Stinkbutt” from my vocabulary altogether. Also Jerkface McGee, and Jerk Wad, and Jerk Squad Leader One. Anything with “Jerk” in it is probably equally unacceptable at work as it is supposed to be in the home. Hardest to resist will be Mr. McBossyPants. But I’ll try.

7.) Making Up Songs. Prevailing wisdom dictates that moms sing to babies. When Donovan was tiny, it turned out the only songs I could remember the words to at nap time were old Peter, Paul, and Mary tunes. But he wouldn’t sleep because I inevitable burst into tears every time I got to the verse in “Puff, The Magic Dragon” where Little Jackie Paper grows out of playing with dragons. And then I’d sob through “Lemon Tree.” Even “The Marvelous Toy” set me off. Did those people ever sing songs that didn’t end with little boys growing up too fast? So I became the Weird Al of the home instead, narrating daily activities set to the tune of whatever song popped into my head. “Diaper Time,” set to “Closing Time” has been a long running success. I also feel my take on “Springtime For Hitler” has enjoyed great popularity. “Nap time for Ramsey and Donovan! Lunch time for Rowen and Mom!” But I fear clients might lose their faith in the sanity of a customs broker who busted out a rendition of “In The Middle,” which I can’t help but think would go “It just takes some time, your e-mail’s in the inbox, but it takes some time, to file entry and manifest,  but check our site, in about an hour it’ll be alright, ALRIGHT!” Yep. It’s going to be really hard not to do that.

When A Capri Sun Straw Is Not Just A Capri Sun Straw

January 14, 2014

I am not a perfect mom. There, I said it. And any of you empty-nesters reading this, preparing to urge me to take it easy on myself, or remind me how quickly “this too shall pass,” save it. I know. And you parents of still-young children hoping whatever I’ve done is worse than the thing you’re currently kicking yourself over: may you find peace in my turmoil.

I posted a video on Facebook of my baby walking. I have acquired some degree of uneasy peace with being THAT mom, the one who overposts pictures and status updates about her kids, because frankly I have nothing else going on in my life right now and I will devastated and lost when I join the ranks of the empty-nesters, and not only that but I’m ruining my children for society by heaping so much undivided attention upon them now, if they even make it to the “Real World” without dying of embarrassment when they reach social media age and discover the many details of their young lives I have made public. Maybe it’s less an uneasy peace than a tenuous cease-fire…

I have been trying to get a decent video of this baby walking for an entire week, because I use Facebook as a convenient alternative to scrapbooking. If I don’t get the video up, how will I remember when baby Rowen started walking? Also, how cute are wobbly new walkers? It was a win for everyone. But since my ingeniously defiant children are rarely adorable on cue, a great disappointment to their theatrical parents, I settled on a 30 second clip, blurry and taken several days ago, as the best option I had.

But it was the worst. The video shows Rowen, 11 months old, proud and pantsless, toddling across the kitchen while wielding a Capri Sun straw. She emerged unharmed, obviously, or I’d be rotting in the CPS equivalent of Guantanamo Bay instead of writing this. And as she was still intact, I added a smart-ass comment in the video description about the wielding of sharp objects, assuming that would explain it away, I guess? Put the viewer at ease? I don’t know…but I was sure that would make it alright. I’m so used to re-branding the many worrisome ways of my children in the pursuit of salvaging my own sanity that I overlooked the fact that some people wouldn’t find babies with implements of destruction cute.

I was instantly inundated with comments. It was a deluge of hate mail. Hoards of onlookers declared me an unfit mother. Okay, technically it was three slightly concerned other moms suggesting in a not terribly unkind manner I might remove the risk of injury to my infant daughter instead of shooting a video. I maintain this is a subtle difference.

I have been mentally kicking myself since. Also punching. Biting. Hair pulling. I mean, what is WRONG with me? I have a state of the art You’re-Not-A-Good-Enough-Mom-o-Meter hardwired in my brain to warn me about dangers like this. Was it down for maintenance? I do not know.

I know that eventually I will retire the incident into the Vault of Weird, Indefensible Things I’ve Done. The time I passed gas in class in 4th grade. Ruining my Aunt Janet’s white business suit by detonating a can of cola with a sidewalk when I was 11. Challenging a college drinking buddy to a tap dancing contest one night.

I don’t handle imperfections well at all. I catalog and index them for easy reference later when I need to refuel the self doubt tank. I maintain no delusions that it is healthy: Do Not Attempt At Home.

Now I am tasked with finding a way of living with being the mom who documents her babies in danger instead of stopping it. Remind me to ask the photographer of the kid being eaten by a camel how that’s done.

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I mean, I know babies shouldn’t have sharp objects. I am not a complete idiot. I devote large portions of my day to removing dangerous objects from accessible places. And 40% of that time is exclusively spent collecting Capri Sun debris, now that Ramsey, my two year old, opens the doors which previously kept him out of the stockpile. No, keeping them on higher shelves won’t help: he’s a climber. No, I cannot afford all new floating cabinetry. Yes, he understands “baby proof” latches. No, I cannot afford all new locks and keys for every cabinet and shelf-concealing door in the house. Maybe I should stop buying Capri Sun? But it’s so frequently on sale, and is the quickest way to head off the toddler meltdown when we drop his big brother, Donovan, at school in the mornings. Should I even be letting my kids drink beverages which are 10% real fruit juice at most? NO! But I’m a pretty crummy mom.

And dangers lurk beyond single-serve juice packaging. The fireplace, for instance, has a hypnotic pull on all three children who interpret “Danger!” to mean “Super fun thing mom doesn’t want us to know about.” And yet risking an almost inevitable burn to at least one of them seems safer than continuing to run the heater that started emitting the burning wire smell last week. Maybe it’s time to consider hypothermia an option.

Every chair we own is a potential deathtrap, given the kids’ propensity for climbing, combined with their poor understanding of gravity. They’ve been known to choke on anything, including their own spit. Donovan gleefully encourages Ramsey to overflow sinks by climbing into them, and Ramsey, having been told he may not go outside alone, is being obedient in that he is hellbent on escaping the house in the company of his baby sister. They fall repeatedly from the one step we have. They burst unexpectedly into the kitchen at full speed when the oven door is open. They hurl themselves at walls and floors, and stage epic battles using dinner forks as action heroes. Donovan once ran full speed into an extended bread board that was at eye level.

I could bubble wrap them, I suppose, and insist that safety goggles and football helmets be worn at all times. That shouldn’t screw them up too much.

But even as a brand new mom, awake that first night at home listening for breathing over the baby monitor, I knew I needed to let go of the strangling anxiety all the assigned pre-baby reading had triggered. If I lay awake in a panic that first night, and even the second, I knew I would be alright. Thanks to a road trip to Notre Dame some years earlier, though, I knew I couldn’t function particularly well past 55 hours awake. So I prayed fervently and got some sleep.

And I guess occasionally letting my third baby totter about with sharp instruments is my equivalent of that. This will never be a 100% hazard free house, not while the wild things possess an ounce of smarts or creativity, and any spark at all of curiosity. I can’t be in three places at one time, and contrary to the lies I will soon be telling my children, I do not have eyes in the back of my head. I am going to miss something. Someone is going to get hurt. Sometimes it will have been preventable. But I will short circuit if I allow for every worst case scenario. I will be paralyzed by fear if I let myself. I will be buried under unsorted junk mail and discarded toys and thousands of stray baby socks if I have to halt all household chores and write a blog every time I am overwhelmed by a tide of self-loathing when any flaw in one of the scores of parenting choices I’ve made in the course of the day is unveiled.

So I’m going to feel kind of crappy about myself for a while. I’m going to stew about the many failings of the day instead of celebrating little Rowen’s new found freedom, or Ramsey’s sudden affinity for having tea with mom, or Donovan’s excellent behavior for a non-kindergarten Monday, and growing mastery of geography. And then I will move this to the Vault, to be accessed next time I want to total up my imperfections. This is the reason we have an abacus.

I had hoped to arrive at some sort of pithy takeaway at this point. I haven’t. So instead, I invite you to make recommendations for juice box brands with duller straw tips.

The 7 Things I’ll Be Good At This Year

January 2, 2014

2013 kind of got away from me. With the click of a mouse, I could get a highlight reel from Facebook. But I think it was one big panic after another, cluttered with kid messes and phases and milestones, big events I was never prepared for, all blessedly obscured now by the fog of Mommy Brain. I think we had a baby this year. I know we moved. We put our oldest kid in school, and there were several job changes. It’s actually been a pretty big year. Wild. Constant motion, little discernible progress on a daily basis, unless you stop to ponder it. Which I’m bad about. But here are 7 things I will be good about in 2014:

1. Total organization. My house will be perfect this year. Better Homes and Gardens could stop by my house unannounced, looking for directions back to the truck route, and wind up featuring my cleverly arranged, tastefully decorated, budget-friendly house. They will also marvel at my weekly meal plans, which I will stick to come hell or high water. They will spotlight many of my recipes, which, as an added bonus, my family will also compliment this year. Or at least say thank you for. We will all happily perform our household chores, which I, as the benevolent dictator, shall specify only once, and my subjects will remember. There will be no more wadding up toilet paper and dumping it in the bathtub. I will finally hang all of my wall art and put my keepsakes from my trip to Europe in the scrapbook I’ve been carrying around with me for 13 years. We will schedule and arrive on time to all doctor and dental appointments. There will be no dawdling on the way to school. Garbage shall accumulate only within the acceptable receptacles, recycling will be promptly sorted, and laundry will be deposited in hampers instead of on the nearest floor. Toys will magically return to their assigned shelves. The three day search for the stapler will not be necessary, come tax time. The handy color-coded calendar will have final say on the question “Do we have plans this weekend?”

2. Taking care of myself. After three solid years of being pregnant and/or breastfeeding, this is the year I finally sleep through a night. I also plan at least two showers per week, and pledge to find a haircut that does not require me to make a daily choice between 45 minutes of fussing and styling or covering my head with a handkerchief. I will pluck my eyebrows regularly. I will wash my face every morning and night, and go out in public only in full costume and makeup. I will get in shape. I will make better lifestyle choices. There will be family bike rides, and I will use my Xbox Kinect Zumba game. Meals will be healthy. I shall lounge in the bathtub. I will floss more than once this year. I will find out what this “me time” everyone is raving about is.

3. Infinite patience. I will develop and exercise it when my my 5-year-old’s legs stop working when it’s time to get ready for bed. I will use it when my 2-year-old throws full dinner plates. I shall summon it when my baby crawls into the dishwasher for the 49th time this morning as I try to load knives, after keeping me up all night with either a teething issue or sheer spite. I will be the picture of calm, ever tuned in to the reality that these years won’t last forever and I will miss them when they’re gone. I will celebrate every juice spill with the same face moms in paper towel commercials make. I will delight in clever back-talk. I will value every diaper change. I will intently listen to my son explain the pretend video game he is playing with a spatula and a DVD case, despite owning approximately 3,000 of his own toys, and I will express genuine interest until my brain implodes. I will stop rushing. I will not yell. I will keep my threats of selling my children to the gays to an absolute minimum.

4. Making things special. From managing to decorate for Christmas BEFORE Christmas to putting Pinterest to shame with my crafty kid birthday parties, I will rule all special occasions. I will fish the rotting pumpkins I forgot about three years ago out of the Halloween decoration tote and clean off all the spooky drapings and black light nonsense for easy, less stinky storage until I actually use them this year. My Easter Egg Hunt will be epic. My Saint Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo meals will be authentic this year, my valentines homemade, and I will think up the most infantile pranks to play on my boys for April Fool’s Day. And on a daily basis I will pack amazing lunches. I will serve up spectacular desserts. I shall devise incredible, personal birthday and anniversary presents, and send out thank-you cards for three rounds of baby gifts, a wedding, and my high school graduation.

5. Being social. I will plan playdates. I will see friends. I will throw stunning dinner parties, setting out all my wedding china and glassware, except the one cup and saucer the children have managed to break. I will wave to people I recognize. I will forge deep, lasting relationships with other moms. I will turn casual friends into people I can text mundane daily details and deep, dark secrets to. I will use up my 1200 talk minutes every month staying in contact with members of my wedding party and people I’ve been on stage with. I will become a tireless PTO supporter. I will whisk the children off to every Parks and Rec event and attend every Toddler Time at the library. I will have theme parties. I will have non-theme parties. I will go to other people’s parties and opening night galas. Failing that, I will attend free preview nights.

6. I will be me. I will really grow into myself this year. I shall no longer contain the snarky remarks I wish to make when admonished by Moms of Only Girls for having rowdy boys. I will do the things I like to do, making time for writing and theatre and music and sports. I will tell my husband he has to take the garbage out. I will use more curse words on facebook without caring who might be offended. I will reveal my political leanings. I will plan date nights and read a book that doesn’t rhyme. I will tell my mom off the next time she makes a passive-aggressive jab about my housekeeping. I will totally define myself. I won’t just be “Nick’s wife” or “Donovan’s mom” this year. I will be me, with my own interests and hobbies and shortcomings and missteps, and I will do so unapologetically.

7. I will settle. I will make peace with the fact that the girl with the “Good Enough Is Not Good Enough” poster on her wall was me half a lifetime ago. She had time and energy and direction, awards and activities. But there is no equivalent 4.0 in being a mom day in and out. No one will put her picture in the paper for winning at dinner. So I will recognize that her track star mentality, while good for a medal at state and a school record in the twelfth grade, is no longer applicable. Nor should it be. So I will stop whispering “Good Enough Is Not Good Enough” when I spot crumbs under the cabinets or crayons in the bathroom sink. I will forgive myself when I fail to achieve any level of success with any of these list items, sacrificing standards in favor of clinging to the thin thread of sanity that remains.

What I will actually do this year is fumble instead of organize. I will try, I will fail. I will rinse and repeat. I will long for a working chore chart, but try to be happy with a husband who vacuums for parties and little boys who delight me by occasionally clearing their dishes without being asked. I will want to be better groomed, but I will settle for finding a decent pair of non-mom jeans. I will try my damnedest to be patient, but forgive myself for screaming “Who on God’s Green Earth put lipstick on the cat!?” And “For the last time, laser guns do not belong at the dinner table!” I probably won’t actually get a bath this year, or two showers most weeks. I won’t write nearly as much as I want to. I may or may not get to the theatre.

2014 will be much like any other year will small children, I suspect. It will be wild. It will blur together. It will march on forever in terms of yogurt messes to scrub from the carpet, but fly too quickly when measured by snuggle time and new vocabulary words and toddlers who whisper “goo nigh!” I will long to have cherished it when it has passed. But I will be so tired and grateful to see it end, like most days. And hey, I can always get Facebook to recap it for me next year.

100 Things My Kids Thought Yesterday

December 12, 2013

Because I have two children (Ramsey, 2; and Rowen, 10 months) who are not completely verbal yet, and one (Donovan, 5) who thinks “I don’t know” is the appropriate response to any question, I enjoy speculative writings like this Christmas wish list for a 10-month-old, and that blog about why a two-year-old is crying. I have summed yesterday up with several thoughts I suspect my children must have had…

1. (Donovan) Ooh! Mom made a special trip to get me yogurt, my favorite! After three whole awful, yogurt-less days, I’ll have to pretend my tummy hurts to get out of eating this breakfast!

2. (Ramsey) Ha HA! I got my diaper off! Look! Gaze upon the wonder of my poop!

3. (Donovan) Mom has asked me nicely to get dressed. So I should have another five minutes to watch Powerpuff Girls before she raises her voice.

4. (Rowen) Mom just put me in a coat, hat, and booties! This is a good time to poop!

5. (Donovan) Mom asked me loudly to get dressed. This is a good time to poop.

6. (Ramsey) Poop is hilarious! I will repeat the word “POOP” 763 times.

7. (Donovan) Mom doesn’t believe I brushed my teeth. I totally didn’t. But I could have, while I was pretending to poop, while I was pretending my tummy hurt. I COULD have brushed my teeth. So I did. I DID! I DID!!!

8. (Ramsey) Mom is putting me in the stroller. That means I once again do not get to go to kindergarten. EPIC WAILING! One of these cars passing by as I wail will stop to save me. No one is saving me! I will increase my wailing volume tenfold! THAT will get me to kindergarten!

9. (Ramsey) I didn’t get to go to kindergarten. I will therefore eat one full box of graham crackers and ALL the fruit snacks.

10. (Rowen) I will also eat a box of graham crackers. The actual box.

11. (Ramsey) Hey! Cat food! It will delight me to dump this on the floor!

12. (Rowen) Cat food! Here on the floor! This is the best! I will eat it!

13. (Ramsey) Mom has a broom. I would like my own broom. I want to sweep the cats.

14. (Rowen) Mom has a broom! I want to sit in the filth pile she is making with it. Why does Mom keep moving the filth pile? If I scoot fast enough, I will get to sit in it. It’s moving! I’m scooting! It’s moving! I’m scooting! It’s MOVING!!! Ah! I am sitting in it…

15. (Ramsey) Oh no! Cats DO NOT like being swept! More EPIC WAILING!

16. (Rowen) My brother is wailing. I want to wail too!

17. (Ramsey) The baby is wailing. I am increasing my wailing volume tenfold, to demonstrate my wailing is far more valid.

18. (Rowen) Uh-oh! Mom thinks it’s nap time. I must cry, thrash, and cartwheel from the couch! Napping is the worst! Napping is…Oh! BOOB! Maybe it is nap time…

19. (Ramsey) Mom thinks it is nap time for Rowen. Now is the time I have waited for. Now is the time to unshelve all of the spare condiments from the pantry. Now is the time to spray Windex on the floor. Now is the time to resume cat sweeping!

20. (Ramsey) Oh dear…Mom thinks it is also nap time for me. I will also cry, thrash, and cartwheel…

21. (Ramsey) …What!? I did NOT nap! That is a ridiculous accusation! It must be time to go to kindergarten. But it is NOT happening fast enough!

22. (Rowen) What!? Coat and hat and booties again? Okay, time to poop again, I guess…

23. (Ramsey) If I dump all the clean laundry and spill my leftover juice, I will get to kindergarten faster!

24. (Donovan) Why is mom always late to pick me up from kindergarten?

25. (Ramsey) Oh my goodness! Kindergarten is terrible, and boring! Get me out of here. I shall commence another EPIC WAIL!!!

26. (Donovan) I had a great day at kindergarten, but for some reason I can’t seem to remember a single thing about it when mom asks me.

27. (Ramsey) Why are we leaving kindergarten? Resume the epic wailing!

28. (Donovan) I am sooooooooooo hungry. I can’t survive the five minute walk home, I’m so hungry. If I slouch and slump and complain enough, maybe mom will let me stop to get a treat at Grandpa’s office.

29. (Ramsey) Treat? I am familiar with, and can fully pronounce that word. “Treat! Treat!”

30. (Donovan) TRRRREEEEEEEEEAAAT!!!!!!

31. (Rowen) Treats? For a baby? This is better than cat food!

32. (Ramsey) I have arrived home, and have just remembered how angry I am to have left kindergarten. I shall dump more cat food in protest.

33. (Rowen) Cat food!? That’s better than treats!

34. (Donovan) I know I promised to have a good, healthy snack if I got a treat, but now I’m going to pretend my tummy hurts again…but it doesn’t hurt too bad for me to play some video games.

35. (Ramsey) I want a snack! But all I want is French’s fried onions. All other offerings will be thrown on the floor.

36. (Rowen) Hey! Brother is throwing food! I love food! More than treats and cat food!

37. (Rowen) Dad’s home! I love dad! I’m going to bounce on him to celebrate!

38. (Ramsey) Dad is home, and my sister is bouncing on him. I shall also bounce on him! But harder.

39. (Donovan) Dad wonders why all the babies are bouncing him. I think I’ll bounce the babies.

40. (Ramsey) Mom is putting dishes in the dishwasher. I despise dishes being put in the dishwasher. I will hurl them to the floor.

41. (Rowen) Dirty dishes? I love those even more than food and treats and cat food! I want to lick them!

42. (Donovan) Mom’s doing dishes, but I am SO hungry!

43. (Ramsey) Mom is cooking, so now is an excellent time to put plastic figurines on the stove top.

44. (Donovan) If I whine about being hungry, dinner will be ready sooner, I am sure of it.

45. (Ramsey) Raw potatoes look like good projectiles.

46. (Rowen) Raw potatoes! I love chewing raw potatoes more than licking dirty dishes!

47. (Ramsey) I have discovered the yogurt left uneaten at the table from breakfast. Time to spread it across the carpet.

48. (Rowen) A yogurt mess? I would like to sit in that!

49. (Donovan) What is taking so loooooooong!? I am SO HUNGRY! I’d better mope around the kitchen repeating that I am HUNGRY!!!

50. (Donovan) Mom would like me to help set the table. I just remembered that the only thing I want to do is watch Dad play video games.

51. (Rowen) Video games? I want to eat video games! I have no idea how to eat a video game. Maybe I can sit on a video game?

52. (Ramsey) Dinner time? I disagree…now is the time for climbing speakers.

53. (Rowen) Dinner? I LOVE dinner! This is the best thing that has happened all day! Better than potatoes or cat food! Instead of eating it, I’ll do a very excited dance in my high chair.

54. (Donovan) Dinner? I have suddenly remembered every mundane detail of my school day and have to tell my parents about all the shirts the people in my class wore today.

55. (Ramsey) Despite finishing all the ketchup on my plate, Mom and Dad insist I should sit at the table. I will therefore toss all the DVDs off the shelf.

56. (Donovan) I am pretending to be in a video game.

57. (Rowen) I want more dinner! Mom is eating, and that’s time she’s not spending cutting meat and green beans into baby size bites. I will do an interpretive dance in my high chair to express this.

58. (Ramsey) What I could really use now is some printer paper to tear up.

59. (Donovan) My fork is a good guy and the potatoes are the bad guys.

60. (Ramsey) Dad has gotten out of his chair. I desire his chair more than anything else in the world.

61. (Donovan) I’m going to pull out the old “my tummy hurts” routine and go to the bathroom now. That will get me out of dinner.

62. (Ramsey) Brother has gotten out of his chair. Now I want HIS chair. I want ALL the chairs, in a pile in the corner.

63. (Rowen) Oh my goodness! I am wasting away! I’ll perform a more violent dance. That will get me more food!

64. (Ramsey) Now I want my brother, who is in the bathroom. To express my displeasure, I will throw soda cans.

65. (Rowen) Enough with the food already! I want to bounce on Dad again! Dad is full of food, and good for bouncing.

66. (Donovan) I’ve been told to get ready for bed, so now I am interested in my dinner again. Also, Ramsey has my chair! MY CHAIR! How can I eat dinner without my chair!?

67. (Ramsey) Sister is bouncing on Dad. I am also going to bounce on Dad. But harder. And then I will perch atop his head.

68. (Donovan) I’ve just remembered 96 more things about my day at kindergarten, and I have to tell Mom and Dad about them before I can finish my dinner.

69. (Ramsey) Dad has begun directing his comments about bedtime toward me. Commence epic wailing again!

70. (Rowen) Bedtime? I just remembered I am starving! I want a BOOB!

71. (Donovan) All this talk of bedtime has reignited my interest in eating my dinner.

72. (Ramsey) I will hurl myself repeatedly into this wall!

73. (Donovan) I wonder how pirates eat dinner.

74. (Ramsey) I shall walk on a path of raw potatoes.

75.  (Donovan) Now is a good time to tell my parents the story of how my teacher moved her chair to the other side of the desk.

76. (Rowen) I want a BOOOOOOOB!!! I have not eaten at all today!

77. (Ramsey) Cats love to be wrestled.

78. (Donovan) My hair feels funny.

79. (Ramsey) Cats do not love to be wrestled! I shall wedge myself in an armchair in dismay.

80. (Rowen) I WANT–Oh! Boob! My favorite. Must be nap time…

81. (Ramsey) I cannot unwedge myself. Resume epic wailing! At full volume!

82. (Donovan) I wonder what’s making my brother cry. And why my sister is so quiet. I’ll just take a little break from eating my dinner to ask about these things at FULL VOLUME, waking my sister in the process and making my brother cry even harder.

83. (Ramsey) Dad seems serious about bedtime. I can delay it by evading all attempts to change my diaper.

84. (Rowen) Bedtime? That is NOT my favorite! I must be hungry again!

85. (Donovan) Gosh, the word “bedtime” gets tossed around a lot here. But I REALLY want to finish my dinner.

86. (Ramsey) A Wiimote doubles as an excellent fencing foil!

87. (Donovan) I finished my dinner, so now I want a treat. Two treats. Treats left over from Valentine’s Day. I love Valentine’s Day. I like getting cards. Hey! Last year at Valentines Day we had just gotten our little baby Rowen! I wonder if mom remembers that. And before that, when we got my baby brother, I got M&Ms at the hospital out of a machine. Better make sure Mom remembers that too. Uh-oh, Mom’s eyes are starting to glaze over…I better just chant “TREAT!” until she remembers what she’s supposed to be doing.

88. (Ramsey) Treat? I enjoy chanting that word along with my brother.

89. (Rowen) Brothers are having treats! I want treats more than boobs or dishes or potatoes or cat food or anything else I have ever seen in my life!

90. (Donovan) I want a book. Three books. I want to read two of them myself!

91. (Ramsey) I do not want my brother to read the books tonight, and will therefore dump out all the fish food to express my displeasure.

92. (Rowen) Brothers are reading books with Mom. Why am I with Dad? If I wail loudly enough, surely I can also have books, which I just remembered I love more than cat food or potatoes!

93. (Ramsey) I hate books. I want Dad!!!

94. (Donovan) I want to talk about everything we will eat tomorrow, what I want for Christmas, what kind of birthday party I want next year, some thoughts I’ve had about my next Halloween costume, which days next week I want hot lunch, and what sports I would like to play when I’m an adult. Also, when I’m an adult, I’ll play video games whenever I want, and drive a car. Sometimes I get to drive Grandpa’s truck…oh, the lights are going out.

95. (Ramsey) Why have the lights gone out? I wanted more books!

96. (Rowen) I just remembered that I haven’t been fed today. I am starving! I will wail my displeasure!

97. (Ramsey) Sister is wailing in the next room. Now I also have to wail, and louder, lest anyone forget that whatever I am upset about (which I cannot currently recall) is still more valid than the thing my sister is upset about.

98. (Donovan) All the babies are wailing. That makes it easier for me to stay awake and pretend to be asleep so I can sneak out of bed and sleep on the floor next to the heater in a big pile of pillows, which I only do to annoy Mom.

99. (Ramsey) If I stick enough fingers up my nose, I won’t have to sleep…

100. (Rowen) Mom has me! I can’t remember what I was yelling at Dad about. Hey! Boobs! My very favorite! And I guess I could have a short nap…

Frumpy Mom

November 19, 2013
Shoes

Picture this. But frumpier.

I am ready to reveal my secret identity to the world. With a bathroom that looks like a hurricane hit a Crayola factory…Rarely arriving to medical or dental appointments by the scheduled time…Not having spent more than $5 on a pair of shoes for herself since her wedding…IT’S…FRUMPY MOM!!!

Frumpy Mom can be seen sprinting a stroller full of babies to the library on the Tuesdays she remembers to do so, shouting breathless encouragement about being late for Toddler Time to her sidekick; Super Reader, the Kindergartner. Super Reader does not care about Toddler Time, having graduated to having his own library card, and is dragging his feet, both literally and figuratively, about getting to an activity designed for the enjoyment of his siblings.

Frumpy Mom has been spotted at the grocery store in ripped jeans and no makeup, baby spit-up on her jacket, keeping three children confined to the shopping cart by bravely dangling the promise of “Good Shopper Donuts” to all parties who keep the public spectacle-making to a minimum. And also by keeping her cart in the center of the aisles to prevent her two boys from demonstrating their finely honed ladder match routine on the store shelves.

Sleeping Baby

Frumpy Mom, unlike the experts, believes in blankets for sleeping babies.

Frumpy Mom doesn’t quite look like Magazine Mom. She has little opportunity to stare lovingly at her amazing, sleeping infant, because she necessarily spends baby’s impossibly short naps inventing ways to keep big brothers from thrashing amazing, sleeping infant.  At the park, Frumpy Mom is not Picturesque Mom, basking in the glory of her children’s delight. She is trying to keep her 9-month-old from consuming large quantities of bark, and frantically trying to redirect her toddler’s attention to the swings before he starts a fight she’s afraid he might win with a 7-year-old. She is also murmuring fervent prayers under her breath that the other parents present also believe in letting 5-year-olds navigate their own playground politics, because hers is going UP the DOWN slide. Frumpy Mom does not consider this behavior dangerous enough to warrant removing her child from the playground, because her child is not made of glass. But that doesn’t mean she enjoys the accusatory looks of those parents who must whisk their extremely fragile children from the park immediately when her little ringleader encourages their children to follow his death defying example.

Frumpy Mom sometimes has to take a beat to filter the words she wants to utter. Shouting “Poop or get off the pot!” through a locked bathroom door after 45 minutes of listening to her son compose a rock opera about the toilet paper roll guy fighting the hand soap bad guy while she does an intricate pee-pee dance outside is really a major victory for the forces of appropriate language, because her ability to censor curse words is directly inverse to how urgently she needs to use an occupied bathroom. Rephrasing negative commands such as “No!” and “Stop!” into positive directives concisely describing the behavior she wants sometimes trips her up. “Please stay on the sidewalk!” is not her knee-jerk reaction to seeing her two-year-old smugly dart into traffic. When she wants to say “Stop smashing your brother’s head with that folding chair,” the phrase “Please play safely with your brother” seems hollow. And though “Just sit in the corner and DO NOT move or make any sound whatsoever for the next three minutes” accurately describes what she wants sometimes, it isn’t the sort of thing she enjoys hearing come out of her mouth.

barney

Unacceptable.

She struggles, too, with the ingenious tricks and games other parents use to elicit the behavior they want in a fun way. Frumpy Mom would rather not sing “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere…” To frumpy mom, this sounds like Barney the Dinosaur trying to play Mary Poppins, which is equally unacceptable as Carrie Underwood playing Maria in “The Sound of Music.” Frumpy Mom believes Julie Andrews to be unequaled, irreplaceable, and maybe some sort of demigod.

  

other glitter boy

The super popular (for a couple of weeks last Spring) glitter jars, for helping calm wild children and interrupt their bad behavior by distracting them with shiny objects? Frumpy Mom has observed that these are breakable, even the plastic ones. She has further observed that glitter falls somewhere between nuclear waste and hurl on the index of things she most dislikes to have to clean off her floor. 

Turning Big Box Store expeditions into treasure hunts sounded like a great idea when she read a blog about a blind woman who cleverly got her children to help her locate the items on her list, while making the errand fun for them. But Frumpy Mom underestimated her eldest son’s sense of being equally entitled to organize such ventures, and he wandered off humming the Indiana Jones theme, seeking cookies, chocolate milk, Skittles, and a ruler.

greenhouse full of bright red poinsettia

They haunt my dreams, plotting revenge.

Frumpy Mom has inspirations of her own, though. Allowing her eldest to purchase a fish with his birthday money and making said fish a large part of the bedtime routine has her boys sleeping in their own perfectly good bedroom and learning responsibility. Or at least that living things have to be fed. Unfortunately, now Frumpy Mom has to learn to care for aquatic plants, which is a stretch for someone who’s never even had a poinsettia make it to Christmas. She also finds herself scrubbing fish poop from thousands of tiny, porous rocks far more frequently than she’d like.

Frumpy Mom has also learned to take inspiration from her children, who are collectively twice as clever as she and her husband, the certifiable genius, combined. The walk to school now takes half the time it used to, as she allows her toddler to chase her kindergartner, pestering and giggling all the way to school. At the end of the chase, though, when her big boy disappears into the classroom, she is left with the angriest, howlingest two-year-old tantrum you can imagine. Imagine an air raid siren. Now increase the volume by 75%. Raise the pitch two octaves. Now attach the noise emitting implement to a large, writhing walrus, and try to strap the whole thrashing, wailing mess into a stroller for a miserable trek back home.

I wouldn’t dress as Frumpy Mom for Halloween. Not even when I was four, and “frazzled housewife” was a somewhat popular last minute costume idea. It just isn’t the most glamorous secret identity. It’s not even completely manageable every day, really, not in the same way I was led to believe it would be if I bought leading brand cleaning products. You know what smiles back from my floor? Disembodied Mr. Potato Head facial features. And sometimes peas and Cheerios, if dropped in just the right formation.

So why bother revealing my somewhat mediocre secret identity, you wonder? Two reasons. The first is that I think it’s important you know that I understand I have my hands full, so you no longer need to feel compelled to stop me at Rite Aid and tell me as much. In the future you will be free to make different, but equally hilarious observations, like “Hot enough for ya?” The second reason is the more self-serving of the two: I need to know. I need to see it out there on the internet, where it will forever be as valid as the infamous “Dear Mom on the iPhone” post or the entry about not hurrying, two of thousands of things I have read and wanted to agree with in full, but have ultimately rejected the bits which do not fit in with who I am or how I wish to raise my children. Now Frumpy Mom is an online reality, and I am free to revise her as I see fit. That’s just who I am now, while I have three kids five and under. That’s not forever.

needsOne day, wanting a house that is company ready at a moment’s notice will magically create the time for me to keep it that way. Effortlessly. Eventually, the mere fact that I know I should plan date nights with my husband will conjure into existence a sitter who charges less than half our disposable income per paycheck just to keep the fool kids from killing themselves for two hours. At some point, I will depart completely from who I have been my entire life, a validation-seeking missile, and I will no longer believe I have to justify every word out of mouth, every routine, every discipline strategy, and every bite I feed my family to fit in with a comprehensive parenting style that, no matter what I decide, deeply offends a larger population of other parents than it pleases.

But until then, I will just be Frumpy Mom. I will also write as Frumpy Mom, because Frumpy Mom accepts her need to write with only a fraction of the guilt I do about bumping her sanity higher up on the priority list than meaning to learn to scrapbook so she can put the baby books together one day.  Frumpy mom feels only a fraction all the guilts I do. She feels only fractions of the exhaustion, loneliness, and insufficiency I do. Frumpy Mom also feels no remorse for eating a whole bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips when she’s up all night with a teething baby.

Frumpy Mom doesn’t have to stop trying to live a more organized life, longing for adorable storage totes. She doesn’t swear off trying to make birthdays and holidays artfully affordable and fun. And, despite outward appearances, she hasn’t completely renounced showering regularly. She just doesn’t fixate on her shortcomings like I do. What I see in myself as a glaringly unforgivable flaw, I see as a charming quirk in Frumpy Mom. Frumpy Mom is how I learn to forgive and like myself. How I spin my failures and overcome my insecurities. Frumpy mom is a complete reinvention of me.

…or the beginning of dissociative identity disorder.

fight

Raising A Gamer

August 28, 2011

I do not like that ‘Splosion Man,
I do not like him, Donovan.
I do not like the orange one,
I hate the pink one too, my son.
I see you’re ‘sploding off the wall,
I see, I just don’t care at all.
I don’t know how he gets up there,
I’ve had as much as I can bear!
I don’t know why he’s getting trapped.
It’s time, I think–don’t you?–we napped.
I do not know why he has feets
Or wears a tutu when he cheats.
I see you blew those guys away.
Can I have silence, if I may?
Yes, I see he’s ‘sploding. YES!
That’s just what he does, I guess.
I don’t know why he broke that glass,
I don’t know. Do you? I pass!
I don’t know why he’s getting squished.
QUIET is the wish I wished!
If he is getting birthday cake,
Don’t tell me, for goodness sake!
I don’t know why he’s ‘sploding, kid.
I might not tell you if I did.
Those guys are running, yes, I see!
Shut up! Please God, stop telling me!
I don’t know why they’re all afraid,
That’s just the way this dumb game’s made!
Stop asking me about “that guy,”
I don’t, I don’t, I DON’T know WHY!
When he comes home, please ask your dad,
But leave me be; I’ve gone quite mad.

Baby Versus Christmas Tree

December 5, 2009

Ah, the first weekend of December. This is the weekend in which, as has always been my custom, I must procure a Christmas tree. I must then decorate the tree. This has always been a time-consuming enterprise, but well worth the investment for the month of cheer it brings me. However, this being the Year of the Mobile Baby (check your Chinese calendar, it’s true), I undertake the project with some trepidation.

Using the DDI (Donovan Destruction Index), I’ve calculated that a baby who can unload his nine-compartment toy shelf in 60 seconds and distribute a single banana evenly throughout four rooms in 180 seconds will be able to dismantle a Christmas tree his mother spent four hours decorating really fast. Accordingly, I am devising several strategies by which I may protect the tree from the baby and the baby from the tree, thus remaining both seasonally cheery, and out of the emergency room. My thoughts thus far:

1.) Hanging The Tree From The Ceiling. I think this is the first obvious option, because it was the first option that occurred to me. Also, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the stores which carry Christmas trees nailed to planks do so specifically for nailing-to-the-ceiling purposes. These trees should probably be displayed in the baby proofing aisle at Target.

2.) Putting The Tree On A Very Tall Table. Because Sir Edmund Hillary baby can easily climb the coffee table unaided, and, having discovered his interior decorating (aka chair pushing) talents, make short work of ascending the dining table, a much taller table than I currently possess would be required to keep a table-top tree out of baby range. Six feet should be sufficient. Unfortunately, ceiling clearance being what it is in my house, the only tree I could fit atop that table would be Charlie Brown’s, and I understand it has television appearances scheduled throughout most of the season. I could get away with a three-foot table, but I’d have to remove all chairs, couches, boxes, and climbing ropes from the house.

3.) Building a Great Wall. Even a pretty good wall would do. Yes, it would obscure the view of the tree, but not only would it protect my delicate decorating schema, it would keep out pesky Mongolians.

4.) Dredging A Moat Around The Tree. Not to worry, you proponents of water safety who claim a child can drown in a teaspoon of water, I can keep the kid away from the moat. This can be accomplished simply by filling the moat with warm, sudsy water, floating rubber ducks in it, and hanging a towel nearby. Donovan will perceive this as an attempted baby bathing and refuse to have anything to do with it.

5.) Hologram Tree. This would necessitate that we live in a Sci-Fi. For those of you keeping score of really stupid ideas, be careful not to confuse this with the recently re-branded SyFy network.

6.) The Edible Tree. Candy canes, popcorn strings, and cookie ornaments are traditional Christmas tree fare, of course, but I’m not sure that I want my decorations nibbled away. Or that I want a sugar-filled baby on my hands. Since he’ll eat almost anything, as his pudgy little figure will attest, my options for edible decor are as follow: salad. Even when he deigns to sample salad, he will always remove it from his mouth unscathed and return it from whence it came.

7.) The Toilet Paper Tree. While I’m sure that to certain tree-huggers it is considered equally as appalling as eating a quarter pounder with cheese in front of a cow to decorate a tree with toilet paper, I think this is a viable option in my house. Extensive studies, conducted exclusively on mornings mama is already running late, have proven that toilet paper which has already been unrolled is of no interest to a baby. The same studies further find that toilet paper will remain unrolled until mama returns home in the evening, at which time it magically re-rolls itself. Investigations into why toilet paper cannot re-roll itself in the three hours between dada’s return and mama’s have been inconclusive.

8.) The Stanford Tree. Not only is Stanford’s unofficial mascot fun to hit, but it could be festive if its terrifying googly eyes and fat, creepy mouth were ripped off and replaced with strand lights. I also think that a mobile tree would present more of a challenge to Donovan than a traditional noble fir held stationary in a tree stand. Not much. Very little, in fact. Okay, to be perfectly honest, I just like seeing the Stanford Tree bludgeoned.

Grocery Shopping As Performance Art

December 1, 2009

Since the birth of my baby, who has somehow morphed into one of those mysteriously destructive and clever beasts known as “toddlers” in the past eighteen months, I have not had the luxury of pursuing the creative, intellectual, or recreational activities for which I had abundant time in my former life. Said Captain Obvious.

Those of you serenely nodding your heads and sagely murmuring “this too shall pass” can save it. I’ve heard this from your organic-produce-buying lot before. Do some yoga. Take a nature walk. Wear socks with sandals. But spare me your condescension, for in all your wizened, post-toddler years, you must realize that I am paying into your social security pot. Of course this will pass, as quickly as Crayons through a toddler’s digestive tract, I’m sure. But meanwhile I feel myself undergoing an appalling shift from classics-reading, promotion-attaining, award-winning thespian to boring old supermom, who hates her job and rushes home with wilting aspirations of housecleaning and baby cuddling, who hasn’t finished reading a book with more than six words per page since “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.”

I therefore decree grocery shopping to be an art form. And also a science. Also, possibly a sport. Grocery shopping is the perfect creative recreation for me in that a.) it gets me out of the house at least once a week, b.) it is necessary domestically, making it a guilt-free event, unlike going to the gym or working on a show,  and c.) I already excel at it. I would put myself in about the 90th percentile of grocery shoppers. (This statistic was arrived at by scientifically calculating that I wish to feel superior to 9 out of 10 people, and still modestly leave myself room for improvement.) I would have been phenomenal on Supermarket Sweep.

Like all great forms of art, grocery shopping must necessarily have been established by the Greeks. It was common, no doubt, for the women to visit one another and boast of their conquests in the marketplaces. “Look,” Mrs. Aeschylus would say, “I saved two drachmas on this olive oil!” Mrs. Euripides would say “I’m going Thursday, when they have their One Day Produce Sale. Pomegranates are three for a drachma. But you have to be on their e-mail list to get that deal.” Their receipts were lost, alas, when the Library  of Alexandria burned.

In keeping with their tradition, which I just made up, I take my grocery shopping very seriously. I’ve trained and studied for years, of course, carefully observing and filing away for later use the acceptable range of pricing for all products it seems plausible I may one day buy. This enables me to quickly flip through the weekly ads, which arrive promptly on Tuesday, and pronounce each alleged sale item either a “good deal,” or “not a very good price at all, really.” This is just an exercise, like running lines. I reserve Saturdays for actually drawing up the shopping list, unless the insidious managers at Cost Cutter change their sale days, again, which I know to be a personal affront. In those cases, I debase myself and make up the list on their chosen sale day, dancing like the money-saving puppet I am.

I begin by asking my husband if he can think of anything we particularly need. This is mostly a test. I know what we’re out of, but I want to know if he knows. Knowing that I just want to know if he knows, he claims not to know. But I know he knows. And he knows that…nevermind. I begin at the upper left hand corner of the Cost Cutter ad, fastidiously recording on my magnetic monogrammed shopping list notepad those items which I deem to be a “good deal.” I proceed left to right, top to bottom, front to back, pausing only to clip coupons. Then I carefully leave a blank line on the notepad and continue to the Haggen ad. Those unadvertised items which I do require, I categorize by store by memory. For example, dairy products, with the exception of milk, will always be cheaper at Haggen. Beverages, with the exception of milk, will always be cheaper at Cost Cutter. Actually, milk is the same price at Cost Cutter and Haggen, since the great Milk Price War of April, when undercutting between the stores brought the price of milk down below the price of gas, thus rendering a large portion of my angry poetry of 2005-2007 obsolete.

Only for big-ticket items like coffee, Equal, or fruit snacks am I willing to divert from my two store routine and visit Walmart. Quarterly, I make excursions to Big Lots and Grocery Outlet to stock up on those weird items like coconut milk. When I buy coconut milk, I try not to think of the many male friends of whom I have pictures in coconut bras. That would be wrong.

Then I dress and put on makeup in accordance with the theme I perceive in my list. Convenience meals and canned goods require no more than putting on a bra and continuing to wear my weekend lounging attire. When pudding and crackers and produce and juice are on sale, I’ll put on jeans and a clean shirt, and do light eyeshadow and lipstick. I believe this says “soccer mom.” For meat sales, I’ll put on heels and a dress, apply eyeliner, and even style my hair into an appropriately 50’s housewife fashion that I hope projects the “I should be in the kitchen” vibe.

Then, fully psyched up, having visualized my shopping strategy, I hop in the car, listen to whatever I want on the radio, and head to the store. The performance/competition begins in the parking lot. Accounting for the weather and the shoes I have selected for the outing, I must weigh the importance of getting a good parking spot against the likelihood that I will die trying to get one. Then I must secure a relatively clutter free cart, preferably dry so that I may arrange my shopping list and coupons on the child seat. This is a major reason I do not take my child with me.

Then begins the shopping. I quickly grab all featured items for which I have coupons at the front of the store. Next I select all fruits under $.98 per pound, with the exception of apples, which must be less than $.38 per pound. If bananas are less than $.58 per pound, I will purchase two bunches. Each bunch will contain eight bananas. Vegetables are more tricky. I have to be careful not to keep more than seven pounds of carrots in my fridge at a time, for that seems to be the maximum capacity of the crisper drawer on the left in my fridge, otherwise known as the carrot drawer. I like buying carrots, though, because they’re always on sale. So are onions. I’ve recently had to move the onions out of my fridge and into a rarely opened cupboard to make room for red, yellow, and orange peppers, which I will buy with impunity every time the price dips below $.98. Green peppers must be two for $.99.

I make a quick scan of all bulk bins, lament that chocolate chips, which I have put off purchasing since last Christmas, are still $3.95 a pound, and stop at the restroom in the corner. I don’t know why I continue to make this mistake. The Sunset Cost Cutter’s restroom is the worst smelling in the county. I know. I was pregnant for nine months. I exit as quickly as possible and proceed to the meat department, where I scan all packages, first fresh then frozen, for bright orange stickers proclaiming additional savings. I will buy almost any meat under $1.98, excepting pork ribs. They are the only meat product Cost Cutter does particularly well, but my freezer is still stuffed with the $.98 pork ribs I know I can get again if I just wait them out.

I next visit the deli, where I purchase a pound of the cheapest turkey lunch meat they offer, unless it’s on sale, then I buy two pounds. Then I must pause and consider deeply whether to go right, to dairy, or left, to bread and snack crackers and soda. This has not always been. Until about three months ago, the only option, unless I wanted to rent videos or buy a bouquet, was right, to dairy. I liked that arrangement. It allowed me to traverse all aisles exactly once. This configuration necessitates backtracking. This is a labyrinth designed as another personal affront, I know it. And they know I know it. And I know that…nevermind.

In any case, I eventually proceed, counterclockwise, about the outer aisles of the store, then zig and zag my way through the parallel aisles, dexterously dodging the shoppers who have clearly not visualized their strategies and are cluelessly scanning the salad dressing from the center of the aisle, quiescently apologizing as I reach past the little old ladies who study their coupons with their glasses threatening to tip over the edge of their noses, cursing store management under my breath, all the while, for reorganizing the store in such a way that I cannot miss the 50 pound buckets of lard, but cannot for the life of me locate the dish soap. Just as well, though. Dish soap is a Walmart item.

Eventually, having backtracked through the soda aisle, I am prepared to check out. The procurement portion of the expedition rarely exceeds a length of twenty-five minutes. Unless I’m looking for emergency dish soap. The checking out portion is a crap shoot. More likely than not, I will be stuck behind one of the old ladies who discovers now that her bifocals have failed her and she has not actually selected the coupon item. An announcement will be made. A kid with carefully disheveled hair will report to the check stand, looking like he’s too cool to do this job, and he will be dispatched at a very cool pace to exchange the single can of cream of chicken soup for the single can of cream of mushroom soup that is specified on the coupon. How that old lady can spot the error on the check stand screen, but cannot tell the difference between chicken and mushroom when it’s two inches in front of her, I’ll never know. Until I need bifocals. Eventually, the purchase will be re-rung, the old lady will pretend to be embarrassed (though we behind her can all see the sardonic gleam in her eye), and she will begin the change sorting process. It is stated in the Official Senior Citizen Manifesto that all purchases must be made with exact change when a line of two or more has formed behind you.

Then comes that most aggravating of all customers, the WIC beneficiaries. They have sorted out, in three separate transactions which exhausts the plastic divider thingy supply, the mountain of cheese, peanut butter, and breakfast cereals to be paid for by the first WIC voucher, the second mountain of cheese, panut butter, and breakfast cereals to be paid for by the second WIC voucher, and the third category, “everything else,” which they’ll be paying for themselves. With a debit card that doesn’t want to work. I know it doesn’t want to work, because the wife will turn to her husband and say “it doesn’t want to work.” The checker will ask her to try it again. She will. “No, it doesn’t want to work,” she’ll explain to the checker. The checker will instruct her to swipe it quickly. The wife thinks it’s Opposite Day, swipes it slowly, and announces “Nope, doesn’t want to work.” The husband will dig into his pocket for his debit card, but the checker, sensing where this is going, grabs the card and swipes it herself. And miracle of miracles…it wants to work this time. “Oh, I guess it just wants to work for you,” the wife will say. And then she’ll look at me and laugh. And I’ll have no choice but to laugh with her. I really want to kick her, but I’ll laugh.

When a plastic divider thingy finally becomes available and it is my turn to unload my cart, I will do so in a very particular manner. I thought my mother was neurotic in her insistence that the cart be unloaded in a particular manner until I realized that as one final personal affront, all checkers and baggers are involved in a conspiracy to squash soft produce, flatten loaves of bread, and separate like canned goods. I therefore unload all frozen convenience meals first, when applicable, followed by all other frozen goods (excepting meats), dairy products, other refrigerated products, meats (refrigerated, then frozen), canned goods, bottled items (plastic, then glass), ambient boxed goods, bulk goods, produce, then cases of soda. And I still get squashed peaches 75% of the time.

But my retribution comes, as I carefully re-stack my purchases in the cart, and the checker scans my coupons. I save between 30% and 60% per visit. And as I examine my receipt, I feel all the elation of hitting the jackpot on a slot machine, and all the smugness of a bank robber who’s gotten away.

It’s a small thing, I know, a petty thing to imagine victory in a paltry chore like grocery shopping. But the ten minutes between celebrating my weekly triumph and the realization, when I unload the car at home, that I’ve just created another household chore for myself is my sliver of hope that buried beneath the frazzled plane I currently exist on, there still exists talent and curiosity and an identity separate from “woman who wipes up baby poop.” Baby poop with Crayons in it…

Thanksgiving: The Tradition Of Putting Olives On Your Fingers

November 26, 2009

I love the word “tradition.” It conjures images, at this time of the year, of plentiful tables laid with squash-filled cornucopia crowded with generations of smiling faces, brown paper turkeys shaped mysteriously like second-grader hands, and Jewish people dancing. It’s also much friendlier sounding than “obsessive yearly rituals,” which as regards Thanksgiving, if done properly, they are.

Thanksgiving, of course, is that Thursday in November which demarcates the gloom of late fall from the festive winter solstice holiday season, formerly known as “Christmas.” Thanksgiving was first celebrated in 1621 by the Pilgrims, who wore black construction paper hats, and the Indians, who fashioned brown construction paper headbands, to which they glued red and orange craft feathers. Together, they colored photocopied pictures of cornucopias and sang “Over The River and Through The Woods.” Then watched the Detroit Lions game.

Black Friday, despite its inseparability from the modern Thanksgiving, was not actually invented until 1670 when North America’s first “big box store” opened. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s “50% Off All Furs, eh?” sale marked both the first Black Friday, and also the first of many evils unleashed upon what would eventually become the United States by what would eventually become Canada. Subsequent atrocities include BC drivers, CanAsian shoppers, Keanu Reeves, Celine Dion, and the Softwood Lumber Agreement.

Of course, our traditions have evolved over the years. We haven’t worn construction paper hats since elementary school, for one. But the really important traditions have remained, worn smooth like river rocks into obsessive yearly rituals which must be adhered to as strictly as the “no washing the lucky socks between track meets” rule, which I ever maintain is not a ridiculous superstition, but one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Athletes.

At its core, Thanksgiving is still about football. And that is what Grandpa should be watching when you arrive at the celebration, drinking diet root beer and watching the Lions game in the living room with your Cool Aunt Linda. Dad and the Uncles, having been told by their wives again this year that Thanksgiving is not about football, will be awkwardly assembled between the kitchen and the living room, trying to determine what Thanksgiving is about if dinner’s not ready and football is off limits. Conversation will of course lead to technology, Uncle Larry having instructed that subject in a high school, Uncle Dan being Chief of Security in King County, and dad possessing a digital camera. No one should tell grandpa that Thanksgiving is not about football, though, for he is old and set in his ways. Neither should he be asked to stop telling the story about the pickaninny at the bus stop.

Dinner, though scheduled for two to accommodate Grandma and Grandpa’s Official Senior Citizen Dining Itinerary, will never actually be ready before three. This delay is necessarily gravy-related. Mom and the Aunts, (sans Cool Aunt who is still watching football with Grandpa) having each attained such personal status and number of years as to qualify them to make lumpless gravy, will each attempt this feat in turn before finally asking Grandma, who has been swaying maternally in the rocking chair, sipping her watered down coffee and calmly murmuring “hmmmm, hmmmmmmmmm” for the past hour and half, to show them the secret one more time. It is commonly believed that Grandma will pass the secret along to one of these women in her will when she passes on, but current tax codes being what they are, no more than one lumpless gravy maker is allotted to a single family without exorbitant penalties.

This is the cue, of course, for Dad to get out the electric knife and carve the turkey. This is a euphemism for eating all of the turkey skin. When he has done so, he will phone his sister-in-law in Twisp to gloat that he has eaten all of the turkey skin, she will gloat that she has also eaten all of the turkey skin, and they will not speak again until next Thanksgiving when they repeat this obsessive yearly ritual.

Meanwhile, since Grandma’s migration to the kitchen, Grandpa has been plodding from the living room to the family room. It is called the family room because the TV used to be kept there, thus did the family assemble in it in years past. Just a nod to tradition. Dad will say to Grandpa, who, to be clear, is his dad, “Dad, would you ask the blessing?” And we will all join hands in a circle. “Our gracious Father,” Grandpa will begin, which just to be clear means God, in this context, “We just ask…” but I will be too busy inspecting the relatives’ shoes to actually hear what he’s asking for. This tradition hearkens back to my Sunday School years, when I rebelliously decided not to close my eyes during the prayer. “Ahhhhh-men,” he’ll finish, and I’ll look up, blinking a little, to indicate that my eyes were indeed closed, and are now unaccustomed to the light.

Then we play a round of “Go Ahead, No, You Go First” in the buffet line. I innovated a brilliant strategy some years ago, which consists of hiding in the bathroom until everyone else is in line. Mom, of course, will get out of line and insist on being last because she read in Redbook or somewhere that was the gracious thing for a hostess to do. She will then announce, “Oh no! I didn’t put out a butter knife!” and lament that the gravy boat was placed to the left of both the turkey and the potatoes, thus rendering it entirely ineffective in her mind. She’ll confide, as she has every year of the past thirteen, since she began serving buffet-style, that she really should go through the line first to make sure everything is in place. But she’ll never do it.

Dinner conversation will consist almost entirely of discussing the food. This change was made after the “kid’s table” was abolished. That was the time the buffet-style was introduced. There didn’t seem to be any point after Cousin Brad went to college and Cousins Mitch and Sky moved to the Tri-Cities. In years past, though, the Cousins and I, along with Cool Aunt Linda and Cool Great Aunt Alice would sit at the kids table and listen to the “adults” debate which way to pass which dishes, and who would serve as keeper of the rolls. This script seems to be an improvement, but we’re still workshopping it. “The turkey is nice and moist,” Aunt Tina will say. My mother will graciously deny this. “Your potatoes are delicious,” Aunt Sandra will insist. Mom won’t be sure they are. “I love these rolls,” Grandma will announce. Mom will confess that they’re steaming piles of dog crap.

Inevitably, whoever brought the sweet potatoes will be asked for the recipe, and asked to repeat it by all who were busy reassuring Mom that there was no way on God’s Green Earth she could have screwed up the traditional cranberry sauce shaped like a can. To hear us at Thanksgiving, you’d think the entire Kenoyer family were sweet potato connoisseurs. This year, I am bringing the sweet potatoes. I am bringing the sweet potatoes because I am tired of bringing the green bean casserole. I am tired of bringing the green bean casserole because without exception, when the conversation comes around to green bean casserole, my mother will pause in her litany of what’s wrong with the dinner she prepared and interject the story of how, in college, I once left a green bean casserole molding on my counter over Thanksgiving break and eventually had to throw the dish, which was my roommate’s, out before I left for Christmas break. I don’t know why I ever told her that. I don’t know why I’m telling it here. But this year, just let her try to tell that story about Uncle Dan.

I have high hopes that as long as we’re avoiding stories about me, no one will bring a dish with peas in it. The only variable in our Thanksgiving dinner is the salad Carol prepares, and she often puts peas in it. And when she does, Grandma will tell the story of how I quit eating peas. “I always had peas when Mikael came over,” she’ll say, “because she loved peas. Then one day, we had peas, and Mikael says ‘My daddy don’t work at the frozen food factory  now, so I don’t have to eat peas no more.'” This story is patently untrue. Or if it is true, I was misquoted, because even at three my grammar was better than that. After the telling of that story, I always hide in the bathroom for a while longer.

Before seconds, and expressly for the amusement of Cool Aunt Linda, the youngest member of the family is required to place olives on each and every finger before eating them. This task has been mine for at least 25 years, but I’ve outsmarted them this time. I’ve had a baby. This year it’s Donovan’s responsibility. This is the main reason I had a baby.

At the conclusion of Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas may be officially declared. Or the festive winter solstice holiday season of your inclination. In my family, which still puts up with Grandpa’s pickaninny story, we have Christmas. This is the only way we can legitimize the great fudge and Russian tea cake feast which occurs between dinner and dessert. And at this exact moment, butterfly-like, I undergo the metamorphosis from bah-humbugging responsible citizen who insists it’s too early for lights and Alvin and The Chipmunks and tacky blow-up snow globes, to joyous, bright-eyed, cookie-baking, Martha-Stewart-reading, stocking-stuffing, Elvis-Christmas-ornament-hanging merry-maker. And I insist on promptly hearing Arthur Fiedler’s arrangement of “Sleigh Ride.” This track is to appreciated in absolute silence, lest my delicate transition take a grinchy turn. This yearly ritual has become much less obsessive since the upgrade to digital media, as I am no longer required to queue up Dad’s squeaky old overplayed cassette tape, at least as old as I am, on New Year’s Eve in preparation for the next year.

I will then demand to watch “White Christmas.” I note that many of the relatives select this point in the festivities to begin their homeward journeys. Coincidence, I’m sure, for it is common knowledge that the Christmas season cannot officially begin until one has watched the most corn-ball Christmas movie available starring a big-eared child-abuser.

There are those, of course, who will tell you that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, but I think that’s an oversimplification. Just like “cermets,” which we in the brokerage business (and by “we” I mean Bill in Customer Service and I) always assumed to be something very technical, until we looked it up yesterday and discovered that it is a composite of Ceramic and Metal. God bless you, Wikipedia. If you follow my logic, of course, you’ll probably conclude that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, and not football, but nevermind that. To paraphrase another obsessive yearly ritual, “Keep Thanksgiving in your way, and let me keep it in mine.” Bah. Humbug. Until approximately four o’clock this afternoon…