Thursday, September 23, 2010

Most Likely To Lobotomize You In Your Sleep

Sometimes I feel like I am the Thought Police.

Most moms I know want their children grow up with a sense of empathy, of understanding and compassion for other people.  I know I am constantly badgering Rollie to be nice to his friends, to cheer them up when they're sad, and try to be considerate of everyone's feelings.  Maybe I'm getting touchy-feely in my old age, or maybe I'm just gunning for Rollie to be voted Most Popular by his senior class (unlike me, who for some reason was voted Most Likely to Succeed...I think it was because our class was so small and all the good superlatives were taken...I would've killed for Best All Around, Most Talented, Class Clown.  I would have even taken some of the lesser known ones: Shortest. Best Freckles. Most Likely To Marry A Guy Who Makes Beer For A Living....But Most Likely To Succeed?  Seriously? If you say so, NFCS class of '95....).  Either way, I would like it if he weren't a complete sociopath by the time he's in kindergarten.

He seems to have the whole empathy thing down.  Except when it comes to Baby Els.  Because lately he has been telling me that he doesn't like her.

I guess I need to look at Elsa from the perspective of a 3-year-old boy. Elsa can be annoying.  She ruins puzzles.  She breaks toys.  She steps on the remote and changes Nick Jr. to ESPN with a mere flick of her big toe.  Maddening, I tell you.  She shrieks unintelligible phrases and demands gum and when she cries I instantly assume Rollie is the cause (which, 99.99999999% of the time, he is).  She doesn't understand the basic rules of games like Duck, Duck, Goose and Memory.  To her the world is one big bounce house filled with things that should be inserted into an orifice.  

Rollie's time-outs are interminably longer, the expectations of his behavior are unreachably higher, and the decibel level I reach when yelling at him is significantly greater.  Yet they have the same bedtime, eat the same foods, watch the same shows, and I think even have the same dad.  It's no wonder Rollie was walking around telling me to keep Baby Els away from him because he didn't like her anymore.

I get it because I used to be the annoying little sister.  The one who took things without asking, who tagged along, always underfoot and constantly looking for approval.  My sister and I shared a room, a bed time, bathtime, clothes, cousins, our affinity for Little House On The Prairie and dislike of squash. I hung around my older sister like a sweat-scented fog, not because I wanted to be just like her, but because she fascinated me (and scared me a little...okay, a lot: She was one of those people who may or may not cut off all your hair in your sleep, so you try to sleep with one eye open to keep a lookout for a shadowy figure armed with a pair of scissors creeping across the room in the middle of the night).   

So I do get the whole, you know...wishing your little sister would be kidnapped by a band of Grateful Dead followers.  I'm sure that wish crossed Carrie's mind at least once when we were kids.  I know this because of the book she wrote when we were little, entitled Stupid Bekah. I was the main character. The antagonist, if you will.  I'm pretty sure I died at the end.

Still, every time Rollie says something to the effect that he wants Elsa to be destroyed, I feel compelled to brainwash him into thinking that not only is Elsa the coolest cat he's ever meet, but that he better love her more than he loves playing Wii while simultaneously eating peanut butter and having the bottoms of his feet scratched, or he will spend the next seven years in Time Out (and I'm talking Hard Time Out...not this cushy, lounge on the couch where he can still hear the television and see out the window into the backyard.  This Time Out will be in the laundry room, lights out, the only sound the ominous gurgling of the water softener in his terrified little ears).

He has figured out how to express his dislike for Elsa eloquently enough so that I don't immediately banish him to darkened corners of the house.  The best he can do is, "I don't want to be around her anymore."

Even though this sentence doesn't use any naughty words or even come close to crossing any verbal borders, and even though I know he doesn't mean it literally, I still bristle when he says it.  I still leap in front of it like it's a speeding bullet aimed right for Baby Elsa's heart.

Me: Rollie, I don't like it when you say that.
Rollie: Well I don't.
Me: Why? Why don't you want to be around her anymore?
Rollie: I just don't like her.
Me: Rollie, that is a terrible thing to say. I don't understand why you're saying that.

Elsa wanders into the room just then, kicks a few of Rollie's matchbox cars out of her path, stoops to grab one and starts sucking on its front tires. Rollie just looks at her, not masking his disgust.  It's an odd facial expression to see on a three-year-old, but it's definitely disgust I see emanating from those gray eyes.  I've been on the receiving end of that look plenty of times.

Rollie: I don't want to sit next to her at dinner.
Me: You don't even sit next to her, you sit perpendicular to her.
Rollie: Well I don't want to sit purple-lick-you-la to her.
Me: She loves you very much, you know. She cries whenever you drop you off at school.
Rollie: Good. I like it when she cries.
Me: That's it. Go in time out.  

As he flaps and flails his way over the to couch in the living room, I feel like I'm doing something horribly wrong.  I feel like there is a much better way to handle it, but I'm too lazy to figure it out.  Am I teaching Rollie that he can't tell me how he feels?  Am I trying too hard to control how he thinks?  Am I proving to him that he needs to start keeping things to himself, lest he wind up in time out?  Will he resent Elsa even more?  Will he chop off her hair in her sleep with a pair of safety scissors, or attempt to lobotomize her with his Handy Manny drill?

I guess I shouldn't worry too much quite yet.  He is at that stage where he says a lot of things he doesn't really mean.  Like right now he's also trying to tell me his favorite food in the whole world is a spaghetti sandwich. And I guarantee you that if I whipped up a mound of spaghetti between two pieces of bread and set it before him, he would look at me like I was f-ing out of my mind.  

Besides, when he's in time out, Elsa likes to go to the couch where he's been banished and make him laugh.  And even though she's usually the reason he's there, he can't seem to help himself when she starts her belly-chuckles.  

And when I hear them both start cracking up, I feel like I've done something right.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

White Trash Irritable

In my book is a chapter that addresses the White Trash phenomenon plaguing almost every mom of young children.

This phenomenon is what causes even the most sane of us to bring our barefoot children into a grocery store not because we don't make our kids wear shoes, but because the only pair of shoes we grabbed on the way out of the house looked very similar in the dim garage, but were in fact slightly different colored crocs, both for the left foot.  It makes us scurry into WalMart without wearing a bra because we are completely OUT of diapers and our infant had a blowout on the way to the preschool carpool lane and this is an absolute diaper emergency.

Or directs us to bring our children into a gas station conveinece store, one of them missing her pants, so we can purchase a six pack of beer.  Like I did the other day.

When I left the house that afternoon, I did not intend to engage in any White Trash activity. It was 3:30, neither of my kids was submitting to any semblance of naptime, but were instead pinching, pushing and screaming at each other, and it was taking every ounce of power in every nook and cranny of my being not to tie them to their respective beds and go for a twenty-mile bike ride.

Instead, I managed to convince my children that taking a trip to our closest Starbucks was the absolute greatest thing we could be doing in the entire galaxy, and they needed to get their overtired little butts in the car pronto or I'd enjoy a lowfat mocha frappacino with light whip without them.

(Side Note: Rollie has gotten wise to my threats to leave the house without him.  About a month ago, after exhausted every effort to get him out of the house with bribery, I finally told him I was leaving without him.

"Are you going far, far away?" he asked.
"Well, not really.  I'm going to the grocery store."
"...Will you be gone a long, long time?"
"I don't know, Rollie.  Maybe like, an hour."
"Like as long as a Little Bear show?"
"As long as two Little Bear shows."
"Will you bring me home a special treat?"
"Um, noooo.  You need to come with me right now."
"But you can leave without me if you'll be right back."
"Don't tempt me like that, kid."

So yes, there is a definite shelf-life to this threat. Once your kid is around 3-ish, it can seriously backfire. Unless you fully intend to leave without him. Which I can completely understand. Oftentimes I am very tempted to buy an automatic cat feeder, fill it with Kix, and go to my nearest Barnes and Noble for some peace and quiet.)

Anyway, I had no intention of making it to Starbucks with my darling children.  I was convinced that before we were even halfway there, their drool would already be crustifying on their unconscious, cherubic faces.  So sure was I of this, that I didn't bother putting any pants on Elsa (although she was sporting a pair of Big Girl Undies since Jeff and I are still living under the delusion that she will be potty-trained before college). I myself was clad in ratty short-shorts and a tank top, since I wasn't going to be exiting my car under any circumstances. I'm pretty sure Rollie was fully dressed, although it was likely in something he'd selected himself, like a too-small t-shirt and a pair of sweat shorts that make him run "super fast."

We made it all the way to Starbucks, me checking in the review mirror every two seconds to see if they were about to drift off. But they were, in fact, dancing in their seats to the radio, excited at the prospect of getting a Starbucks Milk. (Yes, my children are spoiled. Yes, they get over-priced boxes of glorified vanilla ice cream whenever I go to Starbucks, which is why I try to avoid going unless it's a Code Red Desperate Attempt To Get Them To Nap.  Which, I realize after typing this out, makes my children seem so f-ing obnoxious.  Sorry.)

So now I had two kids who weren't sleeping but instead happily slurping on milk, I was not thrilled at the prospect of going back home and hearing them bitch at each other again, but I was really at a loss for something else to do with them short of the whole tying them to their beds idea. And then I received a text from my sister that she wanted me to send out a copy of my book to a friend. Yay! A chore! A task I could complete with the kids in tow! Horray for life's little distractions!

And so it came to pass that I pulled into my neighborhood BP gas station to patronize the tiny post office branch that also sells lotto tickets and nudie mags.  I freed Elsa and Rollie, shoved their grubby feet into their grubby crocs, and escorted them into the convenience store, actutely aware that to a passerby, I looked very much like a frazzled mom making a beer run so she could make it through the rest of the day with her two unruly brats. Okay, so I guess that passerby would be pretty much correct.

As my children systematically destroyed the fake crocodile head display by the Slurpie machine, I packaged my book and dropped it on the counter, then whipped out my debit card to pay.  The man behind the counter shook his head and pointed at the printed sign taped to the wall.  Minimum Credit Card Purchase $10.00.

"All right," I sighed.  "Let me go find seven dollars worth of stuff. Be right back."

I summoned the children.  "Come on, you monkeys," I said. "Let's pick out some candy."

My suddenly compliant children marched up and down the aisles with me, fingering cellephane bags of gummy vermin, candy corn, red hots and sweet tarts.  I attempted to steer them toward maybe something less vile, like Combos, but then Elsa began grabbing rolls of Mentos off the shelf and shoving them into her mouth, while Rollie became obsessed with finding his elusive Gummy Whale (see Just Call Me Captain Ahab). And suddenly I saw this situation getting out of hand.

"Forget it," I snatched a soggy roll of Spree from Elsa, stuffed a wrinkled bag of M&M's back in its display box and dragged my now whining children over to the beer cooler.  The six-pack of Bud Light beckoned, its bottles clinking delightfully as I pulled it from the shelf and brought it up to the front, along with Elsa's slobbery Mentos and Rollie's pack of gummy sharks.

"Here," I said, swiping my card.  My total was $10.93.

"Would you like a bag?" the man asked.

"Um...sure." I suppose I could at least pretend I hadn't just bought beer and sugar at a gas station with my pantless, rowdy children.  A six-pack shaped plastic bag was the perfect disguise.

"Pee-pee, Momma!" Elsa screeched, tugging at my frayed jean-shorts.

"Okay, just a second," I grabbed my wallet and bag, and hustled the children into the gas station bathroom before Elsa peed all over the gritty floor.  And with that, I crossed over onto a higher plane of White Trash. A plane I have never entered before.  A plane I was pretty sure was only theoretical until now.

I burst into the bathroom, barking at my children to not touch, look at or breath on anything within a ten-foot radius. I parked my bag of beer on the floor beside the less disgusting of the two stalls and yanked off Elsa's undies. As I held her, limp and heavy as a garbage bag full of diapers, and dangled her over the toilet.  Behind me I heard Rollie turning the faucet on and off and giggling.

"Rollie, I told you not to touch anything."

"I need to wash my hands."

"I'm sure you do, but wait until I can help you."

He didn't respond, but a few seconds later, the room went completely dark.

"ROLLIE!" I gripped Elsa, who had peed maybe two milliliters and was now starting to squirm. "Turn. The. Light. Back. On. RIGHT. NOW."

"...I can't find it."

"Oh for the love...." I held Elsa to me and shuffled over to the wall, praying I wouldn't drop her or run into the wall or, God forbid, kick over my beer and shatter the bottles all over the place.

I ran my hand across the slimy tiles until I found the switch. I looked around the bathroom, at my son, whose shirt was soaked through, at my six pack with Elsa's undies and my wallet balanced precariously on top, and finally in the mirror, where I saw Elsa's dimply bottom resting on my arm, her hair hanging in her eyes as she laughed and pointed at our reflection. Yes, it was indeed a funny picture. Classic. And I'm sure anyone who barged into the bathroom and discovered us like this would instantly think, White Trash convention in Stall Two.

Hey, he wears jean shorts, too!
Which is why I try not to be too judgmental when I encounter a situation like this at my local convenience store, WalMart lot or McDonald's drive thru.  I understand that under extreme duress, we can sometimes transform into less polished, more frazzled versions of ourselves.  Like Gregor Samsa in Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Or Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk, only with smaller boobs.

So that is my White Trash Phenomenon theory.  I'm gonna go drink my ten-dollar-and-ninety-three-cent beer now.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back In The Habit

Yesterday I attended a Sunday morning church service for the first time in my adult life.  

I grew up on church the way other kids grew up on Ovaltine.  My family and I went there so often I used to think we actually lived at the church, and just occasionally went to this other building where we slept and bathed and argued over who suffered a worse death--Quint from Jaws (bitten in half by a shark) or those Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (faces melted/exploding heads). 

Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, youth group, retreats, bible studies, family name it, I did it.  Episcopal, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, Evangelical Free (still trying to figure out what that one was, exactly....I used to think it was like, Free church to all Evangelicals...or maybe it was more like Pepsi Free...the No Calorie church...).  I've attended all sorts of religious functions; my best friends in school were Baha'i, Jewish, Half-Jewish, Catholic, Mormon.  I've been to Bar Mitzvah's, confirmation parties, Baha'i parades.  I've sampled everything from communion wine to Manischewitz to little shot-glasses full of grape juice, matzo to challah bread to wafers.  I've been confirmed, saved, baptized twice (once the full-on, slammed dunked in a baptism tank).  I've confessed a myriad of sins, memorized an untold number of Bible verses, I've played shepherds, angels, Mary, and once a sheep in Nativity plays, attended sunrise services and midnight masses.  I've even been to St. Peter's square and caught a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI on a Jumbo-tron.    
Getting a shout-out from The Pope

So for the past ten years or so, I'd taken a break from church.  Not deliberately, really.  I just kind of fell out of the habit (no pun intended).  I still prayed, reflected, thanked God every day for all that I have, and cracked open the Bible every once in a while.  But I stayed away from official, structured, hour-long services with singing and shouts of Amen, for no particular reason other than I never bothered finding a church once I moved out of my parents' house.  I wasn't even sure what kind of church I would attend when I became an official church-goer again.  Being the denominational mutt that I am, I kinda just wanted to go, do my thing and leave.  I used to get the sweats during the part of the church service where we had to turn and shake the hand of the people around us, thinking, what if no one shakes my hand? I'll feel like such an idiot just standing here, waiting for someone to come to me.  Maybe I should make the first move.  But what if I get rejected?  It was almost as brutal as the start up of a slow song at a middle school dance--the panic factor was the same, but in church I didn't have a dark corner of the cafeteria to retreat to.

I never really paid attention during the actual sermon, either.  I tell ya, you want to stop time for a nine-year-old, make her sit through a sermon. During the minutes between 11:30 and 12:00 on a Sunday morning, time stood still.  On the occasion that my older sister deigned to sit beside me in the pew, we played hangman, MASH and tick-tac-toe on every blank space of the church bulletin.  The pew shook with our stifled laughter as she drew caricatures of the pastor, the choir, and some of the more cartoonish members of the congregation, until our mother pinched us in disapproval or our father frowned down his nose, his mouth threatening but his eyes full of suppressed amusement.  

On Sunday evenings our father would come up with quizzes about the sermon and print them out. My siblings and I sat at the kitchen table trying desperately to remember scraps of the pastor's monologue and answer as many questions as possible, out of fear that we would either have to sit next to our parents in church for the next twenty years, or be damned to hell for all eternity (at the time we weren't sure which was worse).  Luckily this ritual only lasted a few months. I guess our father grew tired of watching us bomb quiz after quiz, and instead retreated to his computer den, probably praying for our souls as he used his dial-up modem to converse with band directors, Trekkies, and other nerds who were online back in the late 80's.

As I got older, sermons were less of a chance for me to admire my sister's artistic talents and more of a chance for me to hold hands with my boyfriend beneath the Bible we were pretending to study.  I attended a colossal church at that time, and my boyfriend and I would perch high up in the balcony, overlooking the hundreds below, my parents probably unable to make out my face from the fifty stories beneath me where they sat with the choir. Sermons were definitely more bearable when I had someone's sweaty hand to hold.

So anyway, now that we've got kids, Jeff and I decided we were overdue to start taking them to church.  I put Elsa in one of the two dresses she has that fits, got Rollie looking all dapper (until he started wiping his nose with his shirt), blow-dried my hair for the first time in three years, and we were off.

We dropped Rollie off at his Sunday school class, and he strode right in like he owned the place, not even batting an eye when I told him I'd get him in an hour.  I guess preschool has really built up his, a lot...normally I wouldn't use the word 'cocky' to describe my son, but he has definitely developed a swagger in the last few weeks.

Poor Elsa was a slightly different story.  The church had this pager system, so after I signed her in, I was issued a pager in case of an emergency.  "Don't worry," the lady working in the nursery told me. "We hardly ever have to page a mom."

Jeff and I almost made it through the opening hymn when our pager buzzed and flashed like a table at Friday's had just opened up.  I grabbed it and hurried down the aisle, convinced Elsa was having a panic attack in my absence.  

And she was.

"She's been crying since you left," the lady told me apologetically. "I tried to distract her but she's just so upset."

I held Elsa to me, her body twitching, her breath hitching, her cheeks red and streaked and wet. Man, for a little shit who runs away from me when we're at the grocery store, she sure is attached to me now.  I sat with her and watched her warm up enough to methodically remove and insert a pacifier into another little girl's mouth, and then I sneaked away, pausing outside Rollie's classroom long enough to see him busily assembling something out of tape and Q-tips.

The pager didn't go off again until about three-quarters of the way through the sermon. A sermon I was actually paying attention to. A sermon I was actually enjoying. Sure it took me an embarrassingly long time to leaf through my Bible for the book of Daniel, sure Jeff and I searched frantically through our wallets for a few crumpled dollar bills as the offering plate passed by, sure we had to lip-sync our way through the songs because we'd never heard of any of them, but was just nice to be back at church, learning about God as I sat beside my husband and held his hand beneath a dusty Bible.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fruit Of Daubloon

My mother has this thing about treasure hunts.

We were up in Atlanta for five days last week.  During those five days, we were all invited to my parents' house for dinner.  And for some good old-fashion treasure hunting.  With a metal detector.  And plastic sandbox shovels.  And alcohol.  It truly doesn't get much better than that.

My parents live at the end of an uphill street, their house nestled against a 45-degree gradient.  You almost expect to see a leiderhosen-clad lonely goatherd yodeling in their backyard.  Why they decided to retire to a house with more steps than a standing-room-only AA meeting is beyond me.  But it was apparently always my mother's dream to own a mountain cottage with a big front porch swing, just like it was always my father's dream to live in a house where he could keep his assortment of computer equipment on an entire second floor of a house, so he could hole up and plot some serious world domination in between Hulu-ed episodes of CSI.

Anyway, during the days leading up to our visit to my parents' for dinner, my mother has been planning a sort of scavenger hunt for all the grandchildren.  She got the idea during our trip to the Fountain of Youth gift shop, where she purchased several fake gold coins.  Her plan was to bury them in her back yard beforehand, then let the kids hunt for them with her metal detector, thus perpetuating the idea that when people retire they go absolutely bat-shit.

This is not the first time my mother has concocted a synthetic scavenger hunt.  When my sister Carrie was 9 or 10, she invited over this friend who for some reason was reeeaaally into all things Native American.  When my mom got wind of our impending houseguest, she gathered up some indian arrowheads she had laying around and scattered them in the woods behind our house.  Then she told my sister and her friend that our house was just a tomahawk's throw away from an Indian excavation site, and that they should go looking for relics.  I can still hear her squealing with feigned delight when my sister and her friend returned with a handful of polished, gleaming arrowheads.

So this past week, my mother kept trying to hint to my nieces and nephews that her yard was once part of a pirate trading route.  I think she almost convinced herself this was true.  Perhaps someone should have told her that the main method of pirate transportation is BOAT. I could almost tell she was imagining Jack Sparrow, replete with eye-liner and Keith Richards swagger, swishing around the yard in a rum-induced stupor, dropping his coins hither and thither, slurring about Davey Jones and the lesser-known Monkee Peter Tork.  She even tried to pass this myth off on me.

My Mom: I've heard tell of pirates making their way through these parts.
Me (looking around to see if any kids are in earshot and seeing none): ...Mom?  You do realize you're speaking to me, right?
My Mom: They used to carry old Spanish daubloons with them on their journeys.
Me: What the hell is a daubloon?
My Mom: You don't know what a daubloon is? I thought surely you would know, living in Saint Augustine and all.
Me: No, please tell me.
My Mom: You're really never heard of a daubloon?
Me: Say "daubloon" one more time.  I dare you.
My Mom: Daubloon daubloon daubloon.
Me: ...Do you have any more wine?

In the end the kids LOVED the treasure hunt.  And my siblings and I came up with a new drinking game: take a shot every time my mother said the word Daubloon.  If we'd really been taking shots I would have been hammered in two minutes.

PS--In case you need further evidence of my mother's obsession with a.) metal detectors and b.) repeating a Word Of The Day, please see my lil' brother's Possum Crossing blog.  Then you'll understand....As much as anyone can understand my mother's endearing idiosyncrasies.