Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

Let's talk about guilty pleasures, shall we? You know, the stuff you love that you should be scoffing at instead.

Here are my confessions:
  • People Magazine. I have a degree in English. I even graduated with honors. I've read many of the classics, and have slogged my way through Faulkner with the best of them. As such, I should be embarrassed all to hell to read People. But, almost nothing makes me happier on a Friday night. If I can read it in a hot bath with a glass of Riesling (or a Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi) perched on the edge of the tub, so much the better.

  • Bad Pop Music. One of my favorite hobbies is scoping out new music. I actually spend a fair amount of my time listening to music-related podcasts and reading music blogs. Few things thrill me as much as finding an inventive new song and adding it to my music library. 2009 found me grooving to Metric, the XX, Animal Collective, and Thao. Why, then, do I have "I Can't Wait" by Nu Shooz on my iPod? And "Der Kommissar" by After the Fire? Should I not be horribly ashamed? There are a handful of songs I cannot stop myself from liking. Do you remember the song "Dance with Me" by Orleans? I don't have that one on my iPod but if it comes on the radio, I am incapable of turning it off. Seriously. "Let it lift you off the grounnnnnnd . . . "

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies (followed closely by the all-American brownie). My palate is vastly unsophisticated. I don't like cheesecake. I don't like flan. No to coconut, stuff with fruit jammed in it (I love fruit but I don't want it stuck in places it doesn't belong), and eclairs (stuff with goop inside it - blech). Nay, I prefer the same thing I preferred when I was five. Chocolate chip cookies. Brownies. No fancy ingredients, but oh. so. good.

  • Talk shows. I've never been one for soap operas, but I do love to watch a good pithy topic played out on a talk show. I mostly stopped watching Oprah once she started blathering on about her "spirit" and other self-help topics. I watch Dr. Phil when he's got an interesting guest on. I want to start a drinking game where you have to down a shot every time Dr. Phil says, "This ain't my first rodeo." I've also been known to watch the occasional court show. I live to hear Judge Judy tell some slack-jawed defendant, "I'm smarter than you even on your BEST day."
There you have it - my lowbrow pursuits. What's your guilty pleasure? I was going to add "cheap wine" to the list but that might fall more appropriately under the category of "shameful vices."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The things a daddy does

This is what all the fussing and cussing was about. To give you an idea of the size, it is 51 inches tall.

I always knew my husband would be a good dad. I never heard even a hint of "must have a son" from him (even though he does loves sports). Now that our daughter has gotten a little older, she is serving capably as a playmate for him. They play Lego Batman on the PS3, they talk about super heroes, and they rummage through the pantry (in search of baked goods) together. They conspire to keep things from me, such as a red light accidentally run and a hunk of toothpaste smeared on a freshly-laundered dress. Last night I was on the phone with my mom but could hear the two of them singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, replacing all of the verbs with the word "fart." They were both howling with laughter.

I took care of most of the Christmas preparations, but P took it upon himself to go out and get her four sets of super hero figurines. "Ugh," I thought. He handed them to me to wrap and I put as little effort into it as humanly possible.

When A opened those packages on Christmas morning, however, the two of them huddled excitedly over the action figures. "That's the Flash! That's Wolverine!" They talked about which of the toys depicted super heroes and which were villains. I just shook my head. "Bless their nerdy little hearts," I thought. But then it happened: Wonder Woman somehow turned up in the dollhouse.

"No super heroes in the dollhouse!" I said (quite emphatically, I might add.)

"Maybe the super heroes can hang out in the attic of the dollhouse," replied my husband as he posed Wonder Woman in the kitchen.

"How about we dig a hole under the dollhouse and they can live down there?" I suggested.

Meanwhile, one of the legitimate inhabitants of the dollhouse, the mama, disappeared. We searched everywhere for her. Later, we learned that the figurine had never left the dollhouse - my daughter had shoved her into the oven and closed the door. I am not really sure what to make of that. I had trouble finding a family to live in the dollhouse and bought what I could find, which is why the house is inhabited by an African-American mom, an Asian dad, and a blond-haired, blue eyed daughter. We're all about diversity here, people.

On Christmas Day, our daughter received a little make-up set from my sister-in-law (and T, if you are reading my blog: this is war. Your kid is getting a drum kit and a puppy from us next Christmas. And oil paints.) The set included little bottles of nail polish. The kid demanded to have her fingernails painted almost immediately. And P, God bless him, obliged. When he was done painting her nails, he blew on them. Then he flapped his hands at the wrist and said, "Dry them like this."

When I met that young Marine on the dance floor those many years ago, I never pictured the day when he would paint his little girl's nails and, moreover, do it so precisely. I never imagined that young jarhead saying, "Wipe your gyna*!" and then making up a little song about the importance of doing just that.

In a few years, when she is accusing us of ruining her life just by breathing, I hope she'll remember . . .

*pronounced "guy-na" - it's a family term

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You'd Better Not Pout, I'm Telling You Why

When I was little, we lived in an apartment in Maryland. I knew how Santa got into one's home and I was also well aware that we didn't have a chimney. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that, even as a young child, I was every bit as high-strung and fretful as I am now. I all but had a coronary event over this how-does-Santa-get-into-our-house issue. Seriously, I lost sleep over it.

My mom, in her infinite wisdom, told me this: "Santa takes a pill and it makes him very, very small. He walks right under the door!"

As implausible as this explanation may seem now, I totally bought it. I think I just needed something, some reassurance that Santa would not face any obstacles in bringing me my gifts. You do NOT want to make things difficult for St. Nick, through such means as not having a chimney. I did briefly wonder how this microscopic Santa would get my full-sized presents under the apartment's front door, but I quickly dismissed it.

Fortunately for us, our current home does have a chimney. It's been cold lately and we've regularly had fires blazing in the evening. It has occurred to A that this could pose a problem for the man in red. She wants my solemn promise that we will not have a fire on Christmas Eve. "Because Santa might burn his feet!" Then she got worried that Santa might also snag the bag somehow and tear a hole in it, thereby allowing my daughter's presents to fall right out on the roof. I have assured her that the bag is as sturdy as they come.

We also discussed the need for her to be sleeping when Santa comes. "Well, I might hear him ho-ho-ho-ing in the living room," she told me solemnly. I replied that she might but that Santa isn't kidding around about that whole knows-when-you're-awake business. If she hears anything, it'll be Mr. Claus stomping around in the basement and cussing like a longshoreman as he attempts to put together the gazillion piece dollhouse (with six double-sided pages of instructions). Mrs. Claus warned Mr. Claus that he should not wait until the very last minute to assemble the doll house, but Mr. Claus has his head up his ass sometimes.

Now, lest you think we are putting too much emphasis on Santa, know that this is not our sole focus. Some of my happier childhood memories involve Christmas and Santa, and I want my daughter to have that, too. Plus, I know that in only a few short years, some brat at school will tell her what's what and then it'll all be over. I want the magic to last as long as possible. At church last Sunday, the pre-k teacher taught the class about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. At our church (Unitarian Universalist) there is also an emphasis on the Winter Solstice and the return of the light (as the days slowly grow longer). My daughter knows that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, although she did accidentally call him Jevins the other day. We gotta work on that.

So, there is a lot of excitement building at our house. We've got the cookies and even a special plate. The shortest member of our clan has even thrown in some last minute good behavior by being compliant at the store today (it could have had something to do with me telling her that the sleigh has not been loaded yet). It looks like Santa will definitely be stopping at our house tomorrow night. Well, if he can get the %&$*ing dollhouse put together . . .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Time's The Charm

Gretchen and I recently completed the Pre-Novice Obedience training class for the third time. Now, please understand that most duos do have to repeat the class at least once. You have to be able to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in the various exercises before passing into Novice Obedience, where the dogs are off-leash much of the time. Most do not make it through on the first try. So, I wasn't too surprised about having to repeat the class after we botched the first final evaluation. The second time we took the class and didn't pass, I was vaguely embarrassed but mostly took it in stride. By the third time, I felt like Gretchen had improved a lot. One of the hardest exercises is a "stand for exam." She has to remain standing while I move six feet away from her. The evaluator moves towards her and touches her head and then touches her back in a couple of places. The dog needs to remain planted and not move at all. We struggled mightily with this one but now she does it beautifully. She also heels pretty well most of the time.

So, when we went into the evaluation Wednesday night I was feeling pretty good. She performed well on all of the individual exercises. "We've got this in the bag!" I thought. The evaluator (note that the evaluator was not the class instructor - the instructor could not be there) called everyone back into the ring for group sits and downs. Gretchen completed the one-minute sit-stay even though the dogs on both sides of her broke the stay. Then came the three-minute down-stay, which is one of her weaker exercises. It baffles me because, really, what could be easier than LYING ON THE FLOOR for three minutes? Seriously, take a nap, bitch. Anyway, she made it into the third minute but then both dogs next to her broke the stay again. Eventually, Gretchen got nervous and shuffled towards me. I put her back in the down and then shot laser beams into her skull with my eyeballs.

The down-stay is worth thirty points so we were screwed. Our instructor had chosen to use an official trial scoring system rather than the typical pass/fail scoring. I was vaguely miffed at first. But then, when I saw who passed, I got downright irate. There is a black Lab in the class who is a real pill. Flat-out aggressive. He has come after my dog multiple times. His owner has so much trouble controlling him that she has to wear gloves to maintain her grip on the leash. He did poorly in many of the exercises in the evaluation, but somehow pulled the sit-stay and down-stay out of his ass and passed. The sit-stay and down-stay are weighted very heavily in the scoring.

As this dog's owner stepped forward to receive the certificate, the dog actually lunged and growled at a nearby Golden Retriever. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. My dog has a nice temperament and failed the class because she broke one down-stay? WTF? I decided to throw a minor tantrum with the evaluator. I should add that I've known the evaluator since 1998, when I began training Lucy Annabel under her tutelage (and eventually earned several titles). I pitched my fit, she attempted to console me, and I left. I wasn't mad at her; I was irritated with the scoring system and how the evaluations were handled.

As soon as I got home, I ripped off an email to the director of training. She sent me a very cordial response and invited me to bring Gretchen back to the kennel club Saturday morning and take the test again. I mulled it over for a couple of days and then decided to go for it. I took Gretchen to Petco Friday night to practice. Of course, I forgot that automatic sliding doors scare the poop out of her, so she was a little "off" the whole time we were there (had her scaredy face on). Nonetheless, I put her in a very long down-stay in the back of the store and she held it.

On Saturday morning, we headed back to the kennel club, where the director of training was running the evaluations. Gretchen's performance was not perfect. She lagged a bit on the figure-eights and didn't do the smoothest finish after the recall (something she ordinarily does quite well). But, she held the stays. This time, the evaluator was using a pass/fail scoring system and Gretchen passed. I imagine she would have passed this time even if the other scoring system had been used.

I really didn't think I could bear to take that class a fourth time. We'd both be bored to tears. Now, I hope to get her into the ring and start showing next year. My formerly emaciated secondhand dog . . . she's gonna be a supa-star.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My First School Concert

I attended my first school concert (dubbed "Winter Wonderland") yesterday. Or at least, it was my first one as a parent. P's sister was in town so she went with us. A was very excited to have her parents and her aunt there. She dressed up for the occasion.

First off, some of you seasoned parent types could have warned me that getting there 15 minutes ahead of time would not be anywhere close to early enough. When we walked into the school gym, every parent and grandma in town was already there. A lady gestured to me that there were two seats open to the right of her, so my sister-in-law and I sat down. A coat was partially covering my chair but I didn't really think anything of it. It turned out that the lady to the right of me had been attempting to save two chairs, not just one. She started loudly saying things like "WELL, I GUESS IT'S GONE NOW" and "I GUESS THEY'LL HAVE TO SIT ON EACH OTHER'S LAPS." I turned to her and apologized for my crime and let her know that the lady to my left had stated that the chair was available. However, I did not offer to give up my seat. I was there to hear my baby sing and that's all there was to it. She shrugged and turned around to complain more discreetly to her husband.

Within moments, every chair in the room was full and I'd say at least fifty parents had to stand. They stood in a ring around the perimeter of the gym, leaning against the painted cinder block walls. The latecomers to my right did eventually arrive and did share a single folding chair. It was two young women who were both very skinny so I didn't feel all that bad about it. One thing that bugged me was that so many chairs were occupied by very small children who were there to see their older siblings perform. It did seem to me that a lap will do just fine for a small child when adults are left to stand.

My daughter is in 4K so her class took the stage first. I had sent her off looking pretty cute yesterday morning but her hair had taken on a life of its own in the intervening hours. Once she spotted me, she waved frantically and jumped around a bit with excitement. Her class sang a song about a snowman, complete with arm movements. They then launched into a brief little ditty about mittens. I think it goes without saying that my kid, the shortest but cutest in the class, was the star. And then before we knew it they were off the stage and the five-year-old kindergartners were climbing the risers. We sat through two songs from each grade (4K through 5th), and then a grand finale that did not include the 4K class.

As I watched each grade perform, it occurred to me that each class was like a microcosm of society. Each contained: one super tall kid, one super short one, one chubby girl (to whom I can only hope the other kids are kind), one hammy kid who sings a little bit louder than everyone else, one girl who tells all the other kids what to do, one angry boy who doesn't want to be there at all, and one shell-shocked youngster who stares blankly ahead and sings nary a note. I also noted that there seems to be an age at which you can tell the parents have lost control over what their kid wears out of the house. The shift appeared to occur somewhere between third and fourth grades.

So there you have it: my first winter concert. I heard rumors that there will also be a spring concert. No chair wrangling for me next time. I'm camping out for front row seats.

Here is a repeat performance (two videos) that took place in our very own living room.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Things That Suck (Issue #52): The Circus

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight. - Albert Schweitzer

I was elated to see this recent Washington Post article about the training of circus elephants. Don't worry - the article is not overly graphic. Don't be afraid to check it out. When a former elephant trainer acknowledges that there is rampant cruelty in training these animals for circus acts, it's hard to spin it any other way.

Although I don't consider myself an animal rights extremist, I do hold firm the belief that animals should not be used for entertainment purposes. What is done to elephants and other non-human circus performers in the name of good family fun is truly unconscionable. There is nothing natural or fun about wrapping ropes around a young elephant calf (who has probably been forcibly removed from his mother) and forcing him to the ground. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I hope other parents will consider rejecting the circus as a form of family entertainment. Your kids would probably enjoy a day at the park just as much. And as a bonus, you wouldn't have to buy any overpriced souvenirs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

That's Hobo with a B

Giddy thought the stuff from Goodwill smelled mighty suspicious.

My daughter became a hobo today. She didn't know what a hobo was, so I explained to her that's it's someone who has no home (although I guess there's also a connotation that a hobo is sort of a purposeful vagabond, a lovable character even . . . but I didn't go there). She was playing the part of the train-hopping hobo in a Christmas play at church. The children were performing "An Orange for Frankie," based on a book by Patricia Polacco.

Let me tell you, it was a hard sell. I spun it as a "won't it be fun to wear a costume" sort of adventure, but she saw it a bit differently. A lot differently, in fact. She has worn only dresses for almost two years now. I went to Goodwill and picked up some overalls, a red shirt, a red bandanna, and some gloves (I cut off the tips of the fingers - very clever, ne c'est pas?). I bought these items in the boys' section. If my daughter knew this little fact, I seriously think she would experience a psychotic break and never be the same again. I thought of taking a bit of soot from the fireplace and smudging her cheek with it but I knew it would never fly.

The pre-k kids are cast mostly as extras in these annual performances, so A didn't have any lines or anything. She wandered around the stage and sat in a painted train when directed to do so. Eventually she left the stage altogether and sat on her dad's lap for the remainder of the play. She was a cute hobo, but the cuteness was short-lived. She demanded to change into a dress as soon as we got home.

After church, we made cut-out cookies. I rolled out the dough and cut the shapes, and the kid decorated them. And by decorate, I mean that she poured enough sprinkles on each one to choke a horse. Fa la la la la!

Yes, Virginia, there is a cookie under that mound of festive red sprinkles.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Updates on Stuff

A few random updates:

I had no idea that the mystery of the doll with the green thing on her head would keep people up at night. A few friends and aquaintances have posted various theories on my Facebook page. "Do you think maybe she meant Tinkerbell?" Or, "I saw this doll at Target - maybe this is the one?"

The good news is that A has mentioned fifty other toys since she first asked for the doll with the green thing on her head. My mom is getting her the Tiana doll from Princess and The Frog. Then, if that's not the doll the kid was talking about, we'll just say, "That's what we thought you meant." Case closed.

This "I want I want I want" business is precisely why I'm on a mission to have her buy a gift for the Toys for Tots program. Maybe it will hold some meaning for her if she can hand a doll or a game directly to a handsome, uniformed, too-young-for-Mama smiling Marine. I once read that kids aren't really capable of thinking outside themselves until around the age of eight, but I figure it can't hurt for her to have the experience of choosing a toy for a stranger (a child) who may not get one otherwise.

The other update is that the kid is not deaf. My theory was correct. She can hear but she doesn't listen. I took her to see her pediatrician last week. He scraped a few hunks of wax out of her right ear with a wee little spoon (wait, you weren't eating were you?) and then sent her into the next room for the test. I had forced A to practice ahead of time when we were waiting in the exam room. I'd say "booooooooooop" in various tones and volumes and she'd dutifully raise her hand.

The evaluator sat her on a stool and attached the headphones to her noggin. I perched in a chair behind her. The test had three phases. For the first two, she was doing fine, jutting that little hand into the air right on cue. By the time phase three came around, though, the urge to spin on the stool had overtaken her. She completed two full revolutions before I stopped her. The headphone cord was wrapped around her torso so I unwrapped her and then gripped the stool in my hands, holding it in place. I was trying my damnedest to avoid an unneeded trip the audiologist. Fortunately, she finished the test and I was handed a slip of paper stating that she can hear. Eureka! I then had to mail that back to the health department.

So, I think we're all set until next year, when she fails the test at school again. Speaking of school, we received her first ever report card yesterday. She was rated on various skills on a scale of 0 to 4. She received ten 4's, eleven 3's, and two 2's. 4 equates to "achieved skills," 3 is "most skills" and 2 is "some skills." As for the 2's, she got one in "follows a sequence of directions." Okay, no surprise there. If I send her into her bedroom to get her pajamas, she'll walk to her bedroom, find that she has no earthly recollection about why she's in there, and start coloring or something. The other one was in "hears and discriminates the sounds of language." I'm not really sure what was being tested there. I already know my daughter is borderline genius - I don't need no stinkin' report card!

One skill category that made me giggle was : "demonstrates ball catching skills." She got a 3 on that. I am 39 and cannot catch a ball. I graduated college with honors and have been gainfully employed since I was 15, so I'm pretty sure she'll make it into adulthood either way. Thank God she didn't fail "skipping and galloping," though. There's really no hope for you after that.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


My 400th post! Please, hold your applause!

Seriously, though, I'd like to thank those who read my random little blog and those who link to it from their own. And the 26 souls who follow it on Google Friend Connect. I have to blow a kiss to my longtime friend J, who wrote "Obsessed with every detail of this fascinating and alluring woman's life" on his Google profile. Ladies, if you don't have a supportive gay male friend, I suggest you seek one out immediately. While I still have not met my goal of submitting my writing to various sources for possible publication, every day I inch just a little closer. The dream, it remains. Thank you for reading!

In other news, my friend Kari Beth came over yesterday to take some photos of my daughter. I still have not decided if I am sending out Christmas cards this year. I'm under a lot of stress at work right now and I'm really trying to enjoy the holidays without adding any additional angst. In any case, I've got a few good candidates if I do decide to send cards.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Me So Smug

My daughter asked for a Fur Real Lulu Cat for Christmas. Our cat hates her so of course she is obsessed with all things feline. She often pretends to be a cat and makes me rub her belly. When it is time for A to get out of the bath tub, she tells me I have to say, "Please get out of the tub, kitty."

So, when she saw the commercial for the Lulu cat, she said she wanted to add it to her list for Santa. And then began talking about it ad nauseum soon thereafter. I started doing a little digging online and found a message board entirely devoted to shopping at Target (seriously). One of the members indicated that Target had a coupon book offering great deals on toys, and that said coupon book included $10 off on the Lulu cat. Target didn't just leave this little goldmine laying around at its stores, however. You had to ask for it at the service desk (the coupons expired before Thanksgiving, so don't get any ideas). So a few weeks ago, after taking Gretchen to obedience class, I stopped at Target and asked for the coupon book at the service desk. Sho nuff. However, that particular location was sold out of the Lulu Cat. I drove across town to another Target and bought the last one on the shelf. The shelf price was $38, but it rang up at $36. So, with my mighty coupon, I got it for $26.

All the way home, this thing was meowing to beat the band. Gretchen was mighty suspicious, cocking her head and twitching her ears with every motorized meow. I knew I'd have to wait until the kid was fast asleep to smuggle it into the house. Later that night, I brought it in and showed it to my husband. He peered at it from below a furrowed brow. "That? Seriously? She wanted that?"

Lulu does all sorts of tres adorable things, like washing her own face, purring, etc. Things that are indeed captivating if you are a four-year-old girl. The cat has sensors in her head and all it takes is a simple wave of your hand to animate her. To date, I have not seen the elusive Lulu on a store shelf again - anywhere. It is sold out on most websites and in most stores.

Of course, people are selling it on eBay, ready to take advantage of desperate parents. BuyItNow prices range from $60 to over $100. And sometimes that doesn't even include shipping.

Normally, I am not Amazing Foresight Mom. Normally, I am Why-the-Hell-Didn't-I-Buy-It-When-I-First-Spotted-It Mom. So yeah, I am feeling pretty smug about this. Every time I venture into the basement to do laundry, I walk by the bag with the Lulu Cat in it. She says, "Meow" but what I think she is really saying is, "You're the best mother of all time and space." Sho nuff.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Confession #47

Here goes: I have an intense dislike for "The Christmas Shoes," to the extent that hearing just a few notes of it when flipping through radio stations elicits a fairly violent response from me. Yes, "The Christmas Shoes," one of the most beloved songs of all time. To many people, this is akin to saying you don't like oxygen.

Here is a sample of the lyrics:

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Trying to buy that last gift or two
Not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me
Was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing around like little boys do
And in his hands he held
A pair of shoes

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Now, I love holiday songs as much as the next girl. I can Feliz Navidad with the best of them. I even have over 100 Christmas tunes on my iPod. But this cloying song with its treacly lyrics . . . I just can't hack it. I think what bugs me the most is the fact that the child is portrayed as poor AND dirty. It's not enough that his mom is dying and that he doesn't have enough pennies to buy her some shoes to meet Jesus, he also has to be a crudbucket on top of it. That those living in poverty are unclean - ah, I don't know, the concept just bugs me, I guess. And yet, the world was so moved by this song that it was made into a film. A film!

At times, we all need to be reminded that Christmas isn't just about commercialization and consumption. But seriously, aren't there less saccharine ways to get the message across? Even my personal favorite Christmas movie, "The Muppets Christmas Carol" does a better job of it.

So there you have it. Please accept my apologies for disliking "The Christmas Shoes." Don't even get me started on "Butterfly Kisses."

Monday, November 30, 2009

What, oh what, will she buy?

Last week I received a letter from my daughter's school (not the "your child failed the hearing test" letter - this was a different one). The parent organization is setting up a holiday gift shoppe so that the kids can buy "winter holiday presents" for family members. Each student is allowed to purchase up to eight gifts, at a cost of $1.25 each. They sent home a printed sheet of blank gift tags and I'm supposed to fill in the eight names. My first inclination was to put my own name on all the tags. Then I decided that maybe that isn't the best way to make a good impression on the school, particularly since I plan to send my child there for the next seven years.

I remember shopping at a holiday store at my school when I was in the second grade. Guess what I bought my father? An ashtray. It was the kind that consisted of a beanbag on the bottom (plaid, no less) and had the metal part with the cigarette holder attached to the top. Can you imagine if a school sold an eight-year-old an ashtray in this day and age? I suspect it would be front page news, lawsuits would be filed, and all hell would break loose. But in 1978 it was, "What a thoughtful gift for your dad!" I bought an equally memorable present for my mom. It was a small figurine in the shape of a squirrel. And I say "in the shape of a squirrel" because it is only vaguely recognizable as a squirrel. It's painted brown and the red painted eyes are all cockeyed. I speak about it in the present tense because my mom still has it. She says she would never throw away the deranged squirrel.

Needless to say, I am dying to see what my daughter will buy. I'm trying to imagine what sort of trinket sells for just $1.25. Perhaps a ballpoint pen or a Diet Pepsi? I am in need of some paper clips, come to think of it. Apparently the volunteers will even put each item in a gift bag so that it's a surprise for the recipient. You know full well that they could encase it in titanium and the kid is still going to run home and tell me exactly what she bought me (and the other seven people on the list). I won't even have to ask her - she'll sing like a canary.

On December 25th, maybe I'll have my own version of the misshapen squirrel to cherish. And cherish it I shall.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mission Accomplished

Indeed, I did get up at 4:00 a.m. on Black Friday. Some of my friends who are Black Friday veterans advised me in advance not to take it too seriously, so that was the attitude I took. I was armed with shopping lists for my two nieces and three nephews. I scanned the ads on Thursday and plotted my strategy. I actually ordered some stuff online on Thursday, when some stores started their price drops. I knew Best Buy would be a nightmare on Friday so I ordered online from there (and got free shipping to boot). I also ordered a dollhouse for the kid from another retailer. The next day, she started blathering on about some very specific dollhouse that is NOT the one Santa ordered. Someone needs to tell her that once you submit a wish list to Santa, there are no edits. Santa accepts the first edition and that's all there is to it.

When my alarm clock went off at 4 on Friday, I very nearly turned it off and ended the lunacy right there. But, the dogs had also heard the alarm and the next thing I knew, I heard tags jangling and a collective "sweet! breakfast in the middle of the night!" and going back to sleep became an impossibility. I got my act together and was out of the house by 5:15 a.m.

I headed first to the craziest place of all - Walmart. I mean, there is an air of psychosis at Walmart on a "normal" day. My main target was toys and I thought they'd have some good prices. Everyone in town was already there, the traffic so heavy it required several police officers to keep cars moving in the parking lot. I have to say, though, that this being the friendly Midwest and all, people were not all that surly. Many were even downright jovial. I don't know that I would have attempted this same type of excursion back when I lived in the Washington DC area. I got in, found some stuff, and got out. I only bought a couple of "door busters" so in hindsight, I could have waited until another day to go. Lesson learned, I guess.

By the time I was done, it was around 7:15 or so. I drove to a cafe to grab some breakfast, as I had not yet eaten. I updated my shopping lists and tried to keep myself organized. The cafe is right next door to a Toys R Us and I was momentarily tempted to pop in, but I have to say I've never found spectacular pricing there. Plus, I wanted to get to the mall and get a parking spot, as I suspected they were already pretty scarce.

I completed a full loop around the entire perimeter of the mall before finding a parking space. I headed first to Gymboree, which was offering 30% off until noon. I also had a coupon for 20% off, so if you are challenged when it comes to math I will just tell you that I was looking at a hefty 50% discount. I picked up a few things for A and a dress for one of her girl cousins. Then I headed to Kohl's and focused my attention on the toy department. I bought a bunch of toys for my nieces and nephews. I picked up a "shake and go" car for one nephew. It was the police cruiser from the movie "Cars." I had to carry the bags all the way across the mall and then into the next zip code where my car was parked. Every time the bag was jostled, the car would rumble and then say, "SON, YOU'RE IN A HEAP A' TROUBLE!" Over and over.

Needless to say, I was tired to the point of hallucinating by mid-afternoon, but it was a good day. Between online and in-person shopping, I knocked out 90% of my Christmas shopping in one fell swoop.

Now, I just need to figure out how to explain to a four-year-old that there is no way that Santa is buying her this piece of crap Barbie camper to the tune of $70. Santa's generous and all, but he's not mental.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Oh, hand-print turkey, how long I have waited for thee . . .

The kid has come home with turkey art every day for the past week or so. Construction paper turkeys, coloring book turkeys, etc. At church she made a hand-print turkey, which is the pinnacle of turkey-related art if you ask me. During my long, long journey to become a mom, I often filled my head with daydreams of macaroni art and hand-print turkeys. And now the day has come!

The emphasis on turkeys is always a little bit of a mystery to me, though. Why not a cornucopia or something?

Every year at least one person asks what on earth I will eat for Thanksgiving since I'm a vegetarian. I've been adhering to a meatless diet for over 20 years now so it's not as if I'll suddenly be baffled by this particular holiday. And for those of you who have seen me - do I look like I am missing any meals? Call me what you want, but don't call me late for dinner! Ha ha! I'm here all week, folks! Tip your waitresses! Anyway, the answer to the question is that I will eat everything but the turkey (well, I will also skip the stuffing since it is usually made with parts of the turkey). Gravy is also off-limits in most cases. But everything else is fair game. We're eating at a friend's house. I'm contributing a hashbrown casserole, a brownie torte (which my dad lovingly calls "the manhole cover"), and a store-bought pie. I don't like pie but was assigned to bring one, so I figured a bakery pie was the way to go. Most people do not think it is legal to dislike pie, but I'm pretty sure it is.

As I type this, I am working on my Black Friday plan for tomorrow. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am typically out of town for Thanksgiving and can't hit the Black Friday sales. I'm looking at it as an adventure of sorts (just a slightly deranged, nobody-gets-up-at-that-hour-on-purpose sort of expedition). I'm taking a small list along, as well as a rough idea of where I might find the best prices on what. I'll hit a couple of stores, try not to get trampled to death, and attempt to have a little fun while I'm at it. A place in town is opening early and giving a bottle of wine to the first ten shoppers. They are also giving a free glass of wine to every shopper. A glass of wine at 9 a.m. - is that wrong? Don't answer that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The one where I get all old and prudish

I've been trying to decide if the Adam Lambert kiss is worth all the attention it's getting. I know you base your own world view around my take on current events, so here goes: I think it was over the top. Too much. However, not because he kissed another dude, but because it appeared as though he plumbed the depths of the guy's esophagus with his tongue. Seeing the same kiss between a man and a woman wouldn't have made it any less cringe-worthy in my book. Or even two chicks (my husband might disagree with that assertion).

More and more, I form my opinions around this basic barometer: is this something I'd want to explain to my four-year-old? And in this case, the answer was no. It would be one thing if the show had aired in the wee hours, but it didn't. It was prime time (albeit fairly late in the evening). My daughter didn't see the performance, but she is a night owl in the making and it's only a matter of time. I feel stupid enough because I was letting her watch iCarly occasionally until I listened to some of the dialogue (something along the lines of "shut up or I'll shut you up"). Now I just tell her the show no longer airs, even though it is on Nickelodeon approximately 87 times daily. Some days I don't know what I am supposed to protect her from.

Lambert asserts that female artists have been performing flamboyantly and evocatively for years and that no one says a word. He does have a valid point there. The Madonna-Britney Spears kiss from a few years ago caused barely a blip on the radar. And Lady GaGa . . . well, she's out there. Performances by Lady GaGa mostly leave me tilting my head like a dog. I'm not sure I want to explain her to my child either. My theory on Lady GaGa is that if you scrape everything off, every bit of glitter and spackle, she's uglier than homemade sin. I guess I can't blame her for attempting to compensate like she does. Speaking of Lady GaGa, did you see the video clip of Christopher Walken reading Poker Face? Classic.

I'm not trying to shield my daughter from all things unsavory (such as simulated fellatio on an awards show), but I'd really prefer if she encounters them at age-appropriate intervals. I guess I am getting old because a lot of bumper stickers make me cringe, too. Once, I was behind a car (driven by a chick) that bore the phrase "real men eat pussy" on its bumper. And I'm sure we've all seen worse. I'm assuming that the kid will learn to read at some point and then I will have some 'splainin' to do. And life is full of stuff I don't necessarily want to splain.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Can you hear me now?

We received a letter from the health department today. RE: "your child." It turns out she failed the hearing exam at school. Twice. The letter says that "your child may have a hearing loss that is medically and educationally significant." We're supposed to take our daughter for a more formal auditory evaluation.

This notification from the health department, while slightly alarming, is at least marginally better than the one my sister received: "your child may have head lice." My niece did, indeed, have lice. At this point I can't even call my sister's house without itching and scratching all the while. I may have to unfriend her on Facebook just to be on the safe side. Those little nits are pretty tenacious, you know.

So, it looks like I'll be making the kid an appointment with the pediatrician on Monday. Then I guess we'll see where we go from there. Her pediatrician (well, an assistant) did attempt to carry out a hearing test at A's four-year exam back in May. She didn't fail the test, but she also didn't pass. The evaluator filled out the report to say she was unable to properly assess my daughter. The problem was that the kid couldn't seem to remember to put her hand up when she heard the beeps. The tester could see that A's expression changed slightly every time a beep came through her headphones, but the little goober couldn't seem to coordinate the two (hearing + hand-raising). I was told that it's not uncommon for a four-year-old not to fully comprehend the test so I didn't give it a second thought. Until I got the letter.

I don't want to be in denial, but honestly, I think my daughter can hear just fine. The problem is that she doesn't listen. Two totally different issues, I'd say. She can hear perfectly well when you use words like santa, candy, park, or chocolate milk. Phrases like "brush your teeth" and "it's time for bed" are mostly met with silence.

In other news, Gretchen and I were in the local holiday parade today (with the kennel club where we train). I was going to bring Gideon, but he started limping at the last second. I wanted to take him, because he is better with other dogs than she is. Gretchen actually did fine, with the exception of punching a Dachshund in the head and doing the "You wanna a piece of this?" routine with a black Lab. I don't know why, but something about black Labs just seems to chap her ass. She always wants to take them down.

After the parade, I stopped at a craft fair. Guess what I bought? No, not a "snowmen fall from heaven unassembled" plaque, but good guess. The other little witticism often spotted at craft shows that makes me spit up is "don't drive faster than your angels can fly." Why, oh why, must I be so cynical? I blame my parents. This afternoon I made vegetarian chili using a handwritten recipe my mother gave me years ago. Here is what she wrote for me: "add a little of the cayenne. Most people are not as candy-assed as you when it comes to spicy food, so keep this in mind." It is a wonder I am not in therapy.

Anyway, in case you haven't guessed, I bought a hula hoop. One of my web clients conducts hooping classes and somewhere along the way she convinced me that this is a legitimate form of exercise. The hoops are weighted and you can immediately feel the impact on your torso. I figure that when the snow is hip-high this winter, maybe I can spend 15 minutes a day in the basement hooping. Apparently one can burn something like 600 calories an hour this way. Mary was selling the decorated hoops at the craft fair and when I spotted her, I heard myself saying "What size hoop do I need?" and then shortly thereafter I was writing a check.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to explain . . .

My daughter's birthfather is behind bars. He was sentenced to three and a half years in state prison when A was just a few months old. The charge? Second-Degree Sexual Assault of a Child (in other words, sex with a minor). It's unsavory any way you look at it, but I do think it's only fair to differentiate between the 21-year-old dumbass who has sex with an older teenager and the pedophile who molests a small child. It is my understanding that he is the former.

He was scheduled to be released in the summer of 2009 so, out of curiosity, I pulled him up on the circuit court website last week. There was a notation in the records that his parole was revoked. I was a little confused about some of the details of the case so I asked my friend Kim to take a look. She spent many years working for the police department as a dispatcher (I wish she still did because I miss hearing all of the morons-who-call-911 stories, such as the people who ring 911 on the 4th of July to ask where fireworks are being held) and knows about these things. Kim looked him up on the sex offender registry and said that he has been sentenced to another four and a half years in a correctional facility. It was unclear what he'd done to have his parole revoked.

I didn't look at the sex offender registry until a few days after Kim told me she found him there. I pulled him up and was stunned to see a photograph. This was the first time I had ever seen his likeness. And here's what struck me: no resemblance at all. I opened a photo of my daughter and compared them side by side. I tried to picture this man without glasses. I tried to picture him smiling. I imagined him at a heavier weight (the website indicated that he is 6'1" and weighs just 155 pounds). I squinted at him every which way. Same eyebrows, same ears, something? Nothing.

Of course, genetics are a funny thing. Shared DNA does not guarantee physical similarities. My siblings and I are not exactly carbon copies. At the end of the day, though, I'd have to say that my daughter more closely resembles the man who cut the umbilical cord when she was born, the guy with whom she swaps fart jokes and plays PS3 games. The one she summons when a spider invades her bedroom.

I guess I'm not sure what I was expecting when I saw the photo. I already knew that he is African-American, so that part didn't come as a shock. He denied paternity all along (his parental rights were terminated involuntarily after he failed to show up for the TPR hearing), so I suppose what I'm dreading is the day when my daughter goes looking for him. How do I say, "oh baby girl, he does not want to see you"? A's birthmother testified that the guy in the photo is the one who got her pregnant. The man who seemed to her like a good egg and later . . . wasn't. She was living with him at the time and there was no one else. She never lied to us and never had any reason to.

At the moment, my daughter has no idea that it takes two people to make a baby. I guess it is wishful thinking to hope she doesn't find out until her wedding day. But I know that one day she will, inevitably, ask. She will want to know more. I will tell her that her birthmother is beautiful. That she is smart and big-hearted. I will recount all that I remember about the woman who gave me the gift of a lifetime. When it comes to her birthfather . . . well, I guess I just don't know. (For those just tuning in, we already had "the big talk" wherein we explained that she grew in another lady's tummy. We just didn't tell her how she got there.)

I am not the type who wants to shield my child from all adversity. On the contrary, I want her to attempt to play a sport and face at least one colossal loss. I want her to audition for a plum role in a play and lose it to a friend. I don't want to prevent her from knowing any pain in her life.

I just don't want this particular train ever to pull into the station, all the while knowing that, even in full Mama Bear mode, I'll never be able to stop it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eye Eye, Captain

I accompanied the kid to her first official eye exam yesterday. I took her to my optometrist. He told her, "You can call me John." What the bleep? I don't get to call him John!

I didn't have any particular concerns about A's eyes (her ears are a whole other matter - she gives the impression of being stone deaf most of the time). However, I wanted to take her in now to get a baseline for future eye exams. She had a lot of trepidation about the exam, so I plied her with a slice of cake beforehand. I truly did not want her to be nervous about it, though I have to confess that my pre-exam angst over the puff-of-air-in-the-eye test is enough to cause me to need therapy myself.

My daughter knows her letters quite well, but for younger kids they do the visual exam using pictures on the eye chart. She had no problem recognizing the tiny images, however minute. Until . . . Dr. K (AKA "John") shone the light on a tiny little image of a telephone. It was a traditional push-button model where the handset sits on a cradle. The kid had no earthly idea what it was. "Yeah, children are recognizing that one less and less," said Dr. K, who chose a duckling image instead.

I found it pretty humorous that my 21st century kid does not recognize a telephone. Had it been a cell phone or a wireless handset like the ones we have in our house, she would have gotten it. I hope they don't have a record player on the chart somewhere. Every kid in town would walk out of the office wearing Coke-bottle lenses because they failed the exam. Or, as my friend Felix used to refer to his glasses: "Claudia, I have the Great Wall of China ON MY FACE."

Anyway, the exam was pretty uneventful (well, except for the part where my daughter could not master the chin-here-forehead-against-this requirement and pitched forward into the equipment a few times). I asked Dr. K the same question I asked A's pediatrician a few months ago. "So, um, what color are her eyes?" You'd think this would be one of those facts about one's child that would be automatic and obvious, but I promise you it is not cut and dried. When she was younger, her eyes were clearly blue (probably until she was two or so).

Here's a photo to prove it, lest you think I am delusional:

I know that many babies are born with blue eyes, but most change within the first few months (if they are going to change). Up until the last year or so, I would have unequivocally said my daughter's eyes were still blue, But now, some days they appear to be grey, sometimes green, and sometimes blue. So, I thought maybe I should ask someone who knows something about the subject at hand.

"I'll tell you in just a second," Dr. K replied confidently. He looked at her eyes through one of the contraptions and said, "They're hazel." He invited me to look through the lens at my daughter's mega-magnified iris. So, it seems A's eyes have morphed from blue to a pale green ringed with a light golden brown. Dr. K shot down my "grey" theory when he said that in 21 years of practice, he'd only seen three patients with truly grey eyes.

So, mystery solved, I guess. She does have a slight case of astigmatism, but the doctor expects it will probably correct on its own over time.

I know I've posted this before, but it still makes me giggle every time:

Friday, November 13, 2009

What eez it, man?

[Bonus points for those who recognized that as a Ren & Stimpy quote.]

A couple of people have asked me about the doll with the green thing on her head. Believe me, it is bugging me, too. You have no idea. The more A talks about it, the more I think she is truly expecting this doll under the tree on Christmas morn.

I have quizzed her repeatedly about the mystery figurine. The level of detail she provides makes me think that she did, indeed, spot the doll somewhere. The description I get from her: "she has brown hair and a green crown on her head and a green dress on her body. And she's in a box." I have tried asking for the doll's name. "Um, Alexa?" she usually replies. I can tell she doesn't know. There is an Alexa doll in existence, which is from that blasted "Princess and the Diamond Castle" movie. Alexa does not wear green; her dress is purple and blue.

I have tried Googling "doll with green crown" and "green dress doll" and had no luck. I've spent more time on Amazon than I'd care to admit, perusing the doll selection page by page (hundreds of dolls, no lie). I think my last option will be to take her to Target and try to figure out if that's where she saw the doll. The thing is, I'm such a mean mom that I don't usually let her look at the toys when we're at the store. If I've let her do it at all, though, it was probably at Target. Toy department = guaranteed meltdown. That's why I avoid it. But, maybe the doll with the green thing on her head truly is sitting forlornly on a shelf there. If so, I can "let Santa know where he can find it."

Does my daughter not know that Santa Claus is not psychic????

Speaking of shopping, I am giving some serious thought to venturing out on Black Friday this year. Normally, I am out of town for Thanksgiving so shopping isn't an option (because I'd have no way to bring stuff back with me). This year, the budget is a little tight so if I can save some money by getting up when it's still dark out, so be it. My sister-in-law told me she was actually injured by Black Friday crowds one year, so that put a bit of a scare into me.

I'm not planning to be too ambitious with this particular endeavor. I may hit one or two stores and then call it a day. Who knows, maybe it will be fun. And you know I do love a good bargain.

In other news, my child fell in the toilet at school yesterday. She goes to Kindercare in the mornings and 4K at the elementary school in the afternoons. Her dad drives her to the school and then I pick her up from there. When I arrived yesterday afternoon, some little kid wearing pink highwater pants started running towards me. My daughter only wears dresses (per her own edict). "I fell in the toilet!" she yelled. Apparently she hadn't noticed that the seat was up. I am supposed to leave a spare outfit there for her and I did - a year and a half ago. So she was wearing a summer top that was a size too small and a pair of some other kid's pink velour pants. I don't know if the pants were from the lost and found or what the scoop was. The funny thing was that it had crossed my mind in recent weeks to replace that spare outfit with one that might actually fit. But I kept thinking, "She hasn't needed the spare in all this time, so . . . . no rush."

Needless to say, last night was bath night.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dear Santa

November 10, 2009

Santa Claus
The North Pole

Dear Santa,

It's been a few decades since I've written to you. I hope you are doing well. I assume I've managed to maintain my spot on the good list all these years. As you know, I'm a bit of a goodie-two-shoes. Well, mostly. You don't include the college years in your calculations, right? I also assume there's some sort of statute of limitations on childhood offenses, such as the time I put my middle sister in the dryer and turned it on. Of course, you know full well I only let her go around a couple of times and that she grew up just fine.

Anyway, enough about me. My daughter is going to be writing you a letter shortly. Well, I should say she'll be dictating a letter - she only knows how to write her name and a couple other words. She is going to be asking you for "the doll with the green thing on her head." I have no earthly idea what she's talking about, so I sure hope you know. Additionally, she'd like a dollhouse. Also, every product she has seen on a commercial over the past six months. Lately she keeps blathering on about how she wants a Big Top Cupcake. I keep telling her that an incredibly large cupcake is just . . . a cake.

I hope you will forgive me for using your good name each year in an attempt to extract respectable behavior from my child. I only do it in November and December, I promise. I need to send a similar letter to the Easter Bunny to apologize for the spring. Let's face it - evoking your name, however manipulative, can be very effective. All it takes is one little, "You know how Santa feels about dirty teeth!" and the next thing I know, there is a curly-haired girl sprinting into the bathroom and, shortly thereafter, a hunk of pink sparkly toothpaste is adhered to the inside of the sink.

I've also mastered the art of frowning slightly and saying (in a meaningful tone of voice), "Oh, I don't know how Santa would feel about that." I like to think I know what disappoints you, Santa. I've been known to imply, in vague terms at least, that you personally gave me a hotline number that I can call any time to report transgressions. Don't worry - I only pretend to call. I know you're very busy. You've got all those brats who've appeared on Super Nanny to worry about. Can they ever truly be reformed and move off the naughty list? I guess you've got your work cut out for you.

I suppose that's it for now. If you could bring my daughter the "doll with the green thing on her head," that would be great. Oh, and I'm currently pondering a magic marker ban (did you know that dry erase markers stain like a mofo?), so none of those, please.

Your friend,


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Will everyone think I look silly?

My daughter, almost since birth, has generally sported a devil-may-care attitude about her conduct, her appearance, etc. That's how most kids are and that's how it should be. Slowly but surely, though, I'm noticing a new self-awareness sneaking in.

My artsy-craftsy friend Nancy gave her a handmade Halloween pin a couple months ago. The pin is a foam candy corn. It's cute and age-appropriate. When we were visiting my mom last month, I put it on A one day. She looked down at it, frowned a bit and asked, "Is everyone going to think I look silly?"

"No, of course not," I replied, puzzled. For starters, we were in a town over 1,000 miles from where we live. This little hamlet (Corn, Oklahoma - no lie) is so tiny that it has no streetlights and only a handful of stop signs. The odds of someone she knows spotting her and guffawing over her candy corn pin were pretty small. Infinitesimal, even. Second, we had no plans to leave the house that day. My mother and her gaggle of felines were also unlikely to point and mock (at least not right to her face - you know how some cats are).

My daughter is very confident in herself, so I was surprised at her question. Now that she attends elementary school, I suppose more external influences are seeping in. I'm not sure I like it. I mean, this is the same kid who stated, upon arriving at our neighborhood park: "Oh good, there are people here! Everyone will see me!" The same kid who skips in public, hops on any stage she can find, and chats up strangers every chance she gets.

Last Thursday, she and I attended a Fall Festival over at the elementary school. There were craft stations set up and a deejay rockin' some tunes in the gym. By the way, the deejay played "The Cha Cha Slide" and let me tell you, if you want to see chaos, play a song that instructs dozens of young children to "slide it to the left" and "slide it to the right." The deejay gave a quick primer on the concepts of left and right before playing the song, but the end result was still a tangle of minor collisions on the dance floor. Unintentional comedy is sometimes the best kind.

My kid was dancing and running around with some of her 4K friends. I was talking to a mom who lives down the street from me and wasn't paying specific attention to what A was doing at that moment. Somehow, she ended up ass over teakettle and smacked the back of her skull on the dance floor. I hope this will be the first and last time I have to type a sentence like that. She came running to me and I knelt down and did my best to console her. I rubbed her head and wiped her tears and waited to see if she wanted to get back out on the dance floor. To my surprise, she said she wanted to go home. My daughter is not the type to leave a party, nosirree. I always picture the college-version of her yelling "We're not leavin' till we're heavin'!" Then it dawned on me: she was somewhat embarrassed. I pulled her up on my hip and carried her out of the building, she resting her tear-stained face on my shoulder while still clutching her baggie of cowboy trail mix in her fist.

The real bummer: she didn't even get a chance to do the limbo.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dead Things

I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it’s such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her. - Ellen Degeneres

Thanksgiving is going to be odd for me this year. Normally, I go to DC to spend the holiday with family. Or last year, I went to Oklahoma to spend it with my mom (as you'll recall, my parents are in the process of moving from the DC 'burbs to windy Oklahoma). This year, I took the trip early, spending part of October in OK with my daughter. This means I'll actually be home for Thanksgiving this time around. I think we've managed to score an invitation to eat the big meal with friends. If you are thinking, "Wait, isn't she a vegetarian?" - I am, but it's not as if there is some shortage of food on Thanksgiving. I can manage to eat myself into a stupor just like everyone else.

While I'm happy to be spending Thanksgiving with my husband this year (for the first time in a dozen years or so), what I'm not happy about is the realization that I'll be around for deer hunting. I've always managed to spare myself the sight by being out of town. Growing up in Northern Virginia, I didn't know a single soul who hunted. Living in the Midwest now, I know plenty. Obviously I don't dislike my friends/acquaintances/co-workers who hunt, but I do try to close my mind to it as much as I can. It's like the grown-up version of putting your fingers in your ears and screaming "Lalalala, I can't hear you!"

But yes, this time of year is hard for me. When I am on the highway in November and spot a car with a deer lashed to the hood, my heart (my bleeding, liberal heart) hurts. The deer's head always lolls to the side at an unnatural angle, blood crusted here and there on his massive body. Dignity erased.

Okay, I know what you're going to say. Yes, I know the deer population is probably too large. We've already killed off the natural predators of the deer, so it's not surprising that the deer population swells as a result. Yes, I know some will starve, but I'm guessing that if you ask the deer - they'll choose to just take their chances, thankyouveddymuch. They would also say, "You could only call this a sport if both parties were armed, man." I know many hunters feel they are doing a good deed by culling the herd. They say that the deer will starve otherwise, that there are just too many of them. This leaves me wondering what other altruistic pursuits these folks take on. If the concern about starvation is there, are they holding can drives for the local food pantry? If the concern about animals is there, are they also volunteering at their local shelter on the weekend? Protesting in front of the pet shops that sell sick puppies? Rehabilitating injured raccoons who've lost their habitat to urban development?

We do know there are other ways to keep the deer population from exploding, such as chemical sterilization. It's not as easy and it's expensive, so the idea generally gets swept under the "too much trouble" rug. I've done a little reading on it but am not knowledgeable enough to weigh in either way.

I was listening to a podcast called "The Animal House" earlier this week. The guest speaker was Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who wrote a book called The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World. During the program she noted that the fees from hunting licenses do go back to wildlife management. I hate the idea that wildlife needs to be "managed," but it did give me pause. We need game wardens out in the field to guard against poachers and to make sure hunting and fishing regulations are followed. So if hunting licenses pay their salaries, I'm not sure where that leaves me.

I guess it leaves me where I started. At my core I am uncomfortable with hunting and yet I know there are valid arguments for deer hunting (I'm not sure I can buy the arguments for hunting other animals, such as bears and so forth). Before landing my current job, I worked for a manufacturing company. It was a mostly blue collar crowd, with some of the nicest people I've ever worked with. One of my co-workers had a deer calendar above his desk. Each month featured a different wildlife scene, such as a lone buck standing in a snowy thicket. My co-worker talked about the beauty of the deer. I had to agree. What I couldn't understand was how he could then turn that corner from thinking "what a magnificent creature" to "magnificent creature must be obliterated!"

What's a bleeding heart to do?

I took this at my aunt's house in Trinity, TX when we visited in 2007. The deer come almost to her back door and she, remarkably, has no urge to blow them away.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let's Pretend I'm a Grown-Up

It's hard to fight crime when you're wearing three layers

After trick-or-treating last night, I helped the kid take a shower. We needed to wash red hairspray out of her hair and chocolate off her hands. I grabbed the hand-held shower head and aimed it at her thick curls, while she danced and spun and did everything she could think of that might lead to what they call a "household injury" at the ER.

She stopped mid-spin and turned to me. I was kneeling outside the tub and we were eye to eye. "Mama! Let's pretend I'm a grown-up, okay?"

"Gotcha," I said. "You're a grown-up." All I could think of was how the "grown-up" had been repeatedly yelling, "I FA-ARTED!" just hours before.

I finished rinsing the shampoo out of her hair and grabbed a towel. "Since you're a grown-up, exactly how old are you?" I asked. For the record, she is four and a half.

She raised her chin and smiled. "I'm five."

Alrighty then.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

There but for the grace . . .

The morning I left Oklahoma, I stopped at a gas station near Oklahoma City. I had to fill the rental car because otherwise I think they make you hand over a kidney when you attempt to turn it in half-empty.

As I got out of the car, I saw a guy approaching me from my left. He got out of a car that was parked on the other side of the gas pump. He looked to be in his mid-20s and was wearing black pants and a grey jacket.

"Hi," he started. "We're trying to get home to Texas and we just need some money for a pump for the car." He told me what kind of pump he needed but I can't recall. A water pump? Fuel pump?

I looked over at the car. I'm not into cars but I think it was a 1980-something Mustang. It seemed plausible that it could, indeed, need all sorts of parts. The guy held up a driver's license and pointed back at the car. "This is my wife's Texas driver's license, just so you know this isn't a scam or anything. That's my wife - she's six months pregnant." A young woman in the back of the car jutted her hand forward and stuck it out the passenger's side window, waving just slightly. She was wearing dark sunglasses. I could not tell if she was pregnant. An unshaven man sat behind the steering wheel. I glanced at the license, which looked like it had seen the inside of a washing machine a few times.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't live here and I really don't have any money."

I don't know why my place of residence had anything to do with the situation at hand. I felt like a goober for saying it. He nodded and went on to the next pump, approaching an older guy who was leaning against his Toyota as the tank filled.

I watched this young guy go from pump to pump. This was a large and busy gas station. Each person in turn shook his head, frowning as I had when I said no. As if to say, "I would if I could, man. Sorry."

The truth was, I only had about $17.00 in cash on me. I needed some money to get through the airports on the way home - lunch, tipping the skycap, bribing my kid with snacks, etc. As I stood there pumping gas into the car, though, I began to feel I had made a mistake. I looked at my car and took stock. Sure, it was an oldladymobile and a rental, but it was a 2010 oldladymobile. My daughter sat in the back of the car, watching "Peter Pan" on her portable DVD player. I glanced at my GPS, which was attached to the front window. My iPod sat on the seat, charging its battery via the cigarette lighter. P and I basically live paycheck to paycheck. I buy things I shouldn't. We are still paying on an adoption loan and our daughter is four and a half. And yet, life isn't half bad. We have jobs, cars, college degrees, 401K's, and a home that we own.

I grew up in the suburbs of DC. Seeing homeless people standing on the corner at a stoplight was a common occurrence. They usually carried a handwritten cardboard sign. You generally didn't give to any, because you couldn't possibly give to all. You left it to the tourists to do it. I can only recall one occasion where a homeless man was anything other than passive. My friend J and I had taken the Metro downtown and were walking near the National Mall. A man in tattered clothing ran up to us and kept shouting, "CAN I AX YOU A QUESTION?" at me.

I finished filling the tank and climbed back into the car. I opened my wallet and decided that I could, after all, spare a five (but at the same time realizing it wouldn't help all that much). I got back out and handed it to the man behind the wheel. The other guy was still making the rounds of all the pumps. "I'm sorry, I don't have much cash on me," I apologized.

His face brightened. "Oh, thank you so much!" he said, taking the money.

I don't know if I did the right thing or not. Maybe my five dollars went into someone's arm. Or maybe they drank my five dollars. Or maybe . . . they were stranded and just needed a part to get home.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Maybe you can go home again

My vacation has drawn to a close. "The Girl Trip," as my daughter called it. Ten days of mother-daughter togetherness which were, believe it or not, downright relaxing. And Oklahoma, it's definitely growing on me . . . if only they'd do something about the wind, for crap's sake.

It took me a while to adjust to the idea of my parents living somewhere other than Northern Virginia. I'm like a cat - don't even move the couch an inch or I'll have a panic attack. You'll recall that I whipped up a fair amount of angst over their decision to leave the old house and move to Oklahoma. I still have the old house key on my keyring. I cannot bring myself to remove it.

Slowly but surely, though, I've adjusted to the change. This vacation was generally very relaxing. I found time to write. I finished one book (Izzy and Lenore by Jon Katz) and tucked into another (The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion). I took a lot of long baths, closing my eyes and sinking into the old but marvelously deep tub, whose faucet carried a seemingly endless supply of hot water. Outside the bathroom door, I could hear my mom and my daughter playing "Rhino's Rampage" and reading stories together. My mom dug out some old books that belonged to my youngest sister. Fraggle Rock (with those hard-working Dozers), the Care Bears, and The Diggingest Dog . . . all just as we'd left them years ago.

Eventually I realized that the new house in a different state isn't so foreign to me after all. Same stuff, different house. Memories intact. My mom showed A a photo of me at nine months and my daughter was both delighted and mystified. She still cannot believe her dad and I existed before she was born. I opened a kitchen cabinet to find a green mixing bowl that has been around since before I was a twinkle in anybody's eye. My mother made chili and fudge during our visit, both tasting precisely the same as they did three decades ago. Mom still watches goofy old musicals, but on a flat-screen TV now. It must be a matter of some disappointment to her that her three daughters have failed to find the magic in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

I realize I am fortunate that I come from a family whose members get along. I chat with my mother and my sisters multiple times a week. I have no cause to shake my fist at perceived slights. I have long battled several medical issues that caused my childhood to be less than idyllic, but this was no fault of my parents. As a family we had at least our fair share of hardships both great and small. But still, we all get along. We fancy ourselves a clever lot, able to dish it out AND to take it.

During our visit, the kid and I also got to spend a lot of time with my sister (A's "Aunt Craggy"), her two sons, and her husband. We visited their hobby farm, affectionately known as "Dammit Farms" (so named because something always seems to be going wrong). My one-year-old nephew bid me adieu with an open-mouthed kiss, as only a baby can. I slept until nearly 9 a.m. most mornings. Normally I am already on my mid-morning snack at work by 9 a.m.

The relaxation came to an abrupt halt at O'Hare, when my little cherub threw herself on the floor in front of the massive panel of arrival/departure monitors. If there's anything that will snap you out of your vacation-induced reverie, it's a four-year-old shrieking, "I DON'T WANNA WALK ANYMORE YOU HAVE TO BUY A CART CARRY ME I WANT ICE CREAM YOU ARE MEAN!"

This is why, when I turned her over to her dad a few hours later, I made my usual post-girl-trip declaration: "Congratulations, Mr. M! It's a girl!"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hey ya

I know you have been thinking to yourself, "Self, I wonder what Claudia has been listening to lately?" I love fall because that's when a lot of artists release new stuff. When critics start cranking out their "best of the year" lists in December, they are more likely to remember music they just heard in September or October.

My wee baby sister (Red Earth Redhead) and I are thinking of starting our own music blog. We might call it Red Alabaster. Or Alabaster Red. Or, "We'd rather eat glass than listen to Lady Gaga." It's catchy, no?

One album I was really excited to hear this month was the newly released "Know Better Learn Faster" by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. I loved their last album, "We Brave Bee Stings and All."

I can't find a video, but here is a cut called "When We Swam."

I'm also excited about the new stuff coming out from Vampire Weekend. This song, "Horchata," grows on me more each time I hear it.

If you're looking to add some new tunes to your iPod, some of the 2009 albums I think are worth checking out:
  • M. Ward: Hold Time
  • Neko Case: Middle Cyclone (give "People Got a Lotta Nerve a listen - you'd have to be some kind of ass not to dig it)
  • Gossip: Music for Men
  • Bat for Lashes: Two Suns
  • Camera Obscura: French Navy
  • Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (I never tire of "My Girls" no matter how many times it pops up in shuffle mode on my iPod)

I liked Lily Allen's "It's Not Me, It's You," but I find her to be so insufferable that I have a hard time giving her much of an endorsement.

That's all I can think of for now. I'm on vacation and am using as little of my cerebral capacity as possible. Speaking of which, I've got to stay on schedule if I'm going to finish this bottle of vodka before my flight leaves on Monday. Ciao!

Friday, October 23, 2009

I don't like you anymore!

She doesn't like me anymore, apparently

My mom (whom we are visiting) has five cats: Earl, Perry, Sally, Wilfred, and Heinz. (I know, I know - the woman is spending my inheritance on Fancy Feast and scratching posts.) Heinz, the newest addition, is a blondish-orangish kitten born on my sister's hobby farm. Although I keep telling my daughter that we are dog people, she is fascinated by and enamored with kitties. We do have a cat at our house as well, but Ella Fitzkitty has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to children.

Of the five cats, two are pettable. Sally will bite and Earl will scratch. Earl will let you pet him, but only on certain areas of his body (I learned that the hard way when we visited last year, though the scar on my hand did eventually fade). I've instructed the kid not to touch him at all. Perry has an advanced degree in hiding, so we don't see him much. That leaves Heinz and Wilfred. Wilfred is very sweet and welcomes the attention. But here's the tricky part: Wilfred and Earl are identical. Both are smoky grey. The only difference between them (besides temperament) is that Earl's tail is slightly fluffier. A is mostly interested in Heinz the kitten, though, and cannot resist the temptation to pick him up and carry him around.

The other day, the kid poked Earl in the head even after my mom and I explicitly identified the curled-up cat as he-who-shall-not-be-touched. When she did it again, I put her in time-out. A folded her arms, stuck her lower lip out, and shouted through tears, "I don't like you anymore!"

I am not sure what the intended effect was supposed to be. I imagine I was expected to say, "Well in that case, punishment rescinded! You're free to poke the cats." I mean, anything to avoid the alienation of affection, right? But alas, I'm made of sterner stuff and tacked a minute onto her sentence. If there's one advantage to not having become a mom until the age of 35, it's that I have, in fact, been around the block a few times.

I've been hearing this "I don't like you anymore!" exclamation more and more lately, usually when she's in time-out. I don't particularly love time-out as a discipline method, but I've been unable to come up with anything more effective. Her dad and I don't spank her. We give umpteen warnings for each infraction. We take away privileges, toys, whatever. She gets time-out once or twice a month, usually under circumstances where we feel we can't let her call our bluff one more time.

One time, she did something naughty while IN time-out and then I was truly baffled as to what to do. It was like the day Twitter was down and everyone wanted to tweet about Twitter being down. She had smuggled a marker into the time-out corner and then colored on the door. She denied it, but she still had the marker in her hand so it was an open and shut case. I opted to put her to bed early.

So, fellow 'rents out there . . . what sort of discipline would you impose when your little buttercup does something you've specifically asked said buttercup not to do? The time-out bit is only marginally effective. Stockades are illegal, right? Okay, just checking.