Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When did I get so stupid?

Last Saturday, I took my daughter to an arts and crafts festival downtown. We wandered up and down the sidewalk, fondling handmade scarves and sculptures created from common household utensils. The kid unexpectedly turned and strode into a boutique and I followed her in. It was one of those women's clothing stores into which I almost never venture, the type that's chock full of oversized accessories, impractical purses, and what-are-YOU-doing-in-here salespeople. When you see just three of something hanging on a rack, you know you can't afford it. A skipped up to a hot pink halter dress with a diaphanous skirt strewn with tiny crystals.

"Mommy, you would look so beautiful in this dress!" she exclaimed, pulling the dress outward so that I could take in its glory.

"Oh, sweetie," I responded, running my fingers over the flowing fabric, "I don't know where I'd wear a dress like that."

She stopped and turned around, looking up at me with brow furrowed. "You'd wear it ON YOUR BODY." She said it slowly and carefully to ensure my comprehension.

The following day, we were headed to church. Our church is right near the airport, so we often see airplanes landing as we are waiting at the light. A watched a mid-sized Northwest Airlines flight touch down on the runway. "We're taking an airplane to see Meemaw in Oklahoma!" she exclaimed.

"Yep, we're leaving in two weeks," I responded. "We're not leaving from this airport, though." We are driving to a larger "hub" airport because the fares are a lot cheaper.

"We're going to spend the night at Kathy's house the night before," I continued. "She lives closer to the other airport."

"Mommy, why would we stay at Kathy's house? WE. HAVE. A. HOUSE." Again with the careful enunciation for my benefit.

I never knew I was so stupid until I became a mom. After all, I spent much of my education in Gifted/Talented classes. I graduated college with honors. I've read Faulkner, for crying out loud! But now, I'm just a run of the mill dumbass who does not understand basic concepts.

From the back seat I keep hearing things like, "This is NOT the way to our house. You need to turn." Also, I'm often told that I've forgotten something, when the truth is that I haven't forgotten - I just haven't done it yet. Just as I'm reaching into the refrigerator to pour some apple juice for our resident pre-schooler, I'll hear that sing-songy voice, "Mom-my, you forgot my ju-uice!"

"I didn't forget, " I say through slightly gritted teeth. "I'm getting it right now." I never get credit for it, though. It just continues through different objects. "Mom-my, you forgot my pillow/blanket/teddy/pajamas/backpack/umbrella/coat/toothbrush!"

It's a wonder I manage to shower properly and feed myself each morning.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cher-oo

I had my chimney cleaned on Friday. And no, I do not mean that in any sort of metaphorical sense - I literally had the chimney cleaned. We hadn't brought in a chimney sweep in several years, mostly because a) we intend to do it every year but never seem to have it in the budget and b) our kid is a bit, ah, clumsy and we weren't convinced that she wouldn't pitch headfirst into a crackling fire. Now that she is a little older and we had it in the budget, I called the first name that came up on Google.

The gentleman on the other end was friendly and folksy. "I'll be coming myself because I'm the owner and I do everything myself. If you want it done right, you do it yourself. That's what I always say." We made arrangements for him to come on Friday afternoon, when I would be taking a late lunch in order to meet him at my house. I was instructed to have $110.00 in cash.

As I left the office on Friday, I told my co-worker, "If I don't come back, it was the guy at Alpine Chimney who did it."

The chimney sweep arrived at the appointed time and set up shop next to the fireplace. He had various round bristle brushes and other soot-covered tools. He was an older gentleman, dressed all in black, of course. He wore glasses with oddly tinted lenses. He had Santa Claus embroidered on his shirt, because his slogan has something to do with helping make sure that Santa can get into your house on Christmas Eve. Won't my daughter be thrilled, I thought. She has been asking me a lot of pointed questions about the Easter Bunny lately, such as "WHERE were you sleeping when the Easter Bunny came in?" Apparently she is having a hard time believing that a giant rabbit hopped all over our house and I somehow failed to spot him.

Before the chimney sweep got started he handed me a folded card which bore one perfect, sooty thumbprint in the corner. The card had some sort of motivational message on the inside, and a list of references. I noted that most were names with no telephone numbers. I went into the other room to watch Judge Hatchett while he worked.

About twenty minutes later, he called me into the living room to show me the fireplace, which has been sucked clean of its filth. He pointed out a few small cracks and suggested I do something about them when they get wider. He then gathered his gear and loaded it into his car. I was impressed that there were no sooty footprints on my carpet or anything. A few minutes later, he came back in to issue me a receipt and here's when things got interesting. Writing in a small folio, he leaned down to pet Fritz, who was on the other side of a baby gate and who didn't seem to mind having blackened fingertips scritching him on his head. The chimney sweep then pulled out a photo of a youngish blonde woman surrounded by three enormous St. Bernards. Not having any idea why he was showing me the photo, I said, "Oh, um, are they your dogs?"

"Oh, God no," he said, tucking the photo back in. "She went through a terrible divorce. Oh yeah, it was just the worst. Those dogs are her babies now." I have no idea who this woman was (and he didn't say) but I now knew quite a bit about her tragic personal life.

I handed the cash to the chimney sweep. "If I pay extra, will you dance on my roof like Dick Van Dyke?" I asked. No doubt I was the 548th person to make this request.

He smiled. "I used to have this one guy working for me," he started. "He wore the stovepipe hat and the coat and tails and the whole deal. Oh, the TV stations all wanted him, you know. Everyone always wanted to rub his button. That's good luck, you know."

Then he lowered his voice. "Yeah, that guy . . . his father beat him to death with a hammer." I just stood there, unsure of the proper etiquette for this type of situation. He wasn't done, though. "His dad was at all the bars downtown, you know. That alcohol is no good." I nodded.

He opened the folio again and handed me a blurry Polaroid of a tiny figure standing on top of a factory's smokestack. "That's me!" he exclaimed.

"Well, so it is!' I responded. He went on to tell me about that particular job and how hard it had been to work at that altitude. Not sure where this conversation was going to go (or for how long), I mumbled something about how I had to get back to work, which was the absolute truth. Otherwise, it seemed like we might be standing there until Santa really did show up.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stupor Girl

As I sit down to write this, my husband and daughter are in the other room playing an X-Men game on the PS3. We only have one controller, so they have to share. I have to confess I am impressed at how well she can navigate the game. She knows the names of all the mutants. She knows which button does what on the controller. When it was A's turn a few minutes ago, I actually heard her father say this to her (and I promise you I am not exaggerating or embellishing this in any way - it is a direct quote): "Hang on, let me find you a robot to fight."

Isn't that what every daddy says to his precious baby girl?

In other super hero-related news, the kid has decided to be Super Girl for Halloween. We bought the costume, but she keeps insisting that she needs to wear a tiara. We've told her repeatedly that Super Girl doesn't wear anything on her head. The get-up is pretty garish already, truth be told.

Speaking of super heroes, I cannot say the word "Superman" without my brain involuntarily adding the rest of the line. "Superman looked up at me, he said 'you rock so naturally.'" I realize I am really dating myself with this. Honestly, I should be ashamed. But somehow, I'm just not.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Day in the Life

My daughter is not what you'd call a morning person. She takes after her Meemaw that way. Every night, we suggest to the kid that she go to sleep because "you'll be tired in the morning if you don't go to bed now." Well, the morning her and the evening her are not the same person. The P.M. version is jovial and cheerful. The A.M. version . . . not so much.

After some trial and error, we discovered that we can scale back the intensity of the morning tantrums by putting her in front of the TV when she gets dressed. (Don't give me that look - it's not like we leave her there all day.)

First: waking her up. I'm reminded of that joke, "Some days I wake up grumpy, some days I just let him sleep."

Second: I lift her out of her bed and carry her out to the couch. I can lift her now but I am not sure how long this is going to work. Let me tell you, I have no upper body strength. That's why I transitioned her out of her infant carrier when she was only four months old. I was too much of a pussy to carry a baby and a hunk of plastic. Anyway, I keep picturing me trying to carry a high school freshman down the hall in about ten years.

I turn on PBS. Curious George is on at 6 a.m., followed by Sid the Science Kid at 6:30. I actually like Sid the Science Kid, which is produced by the Hensons. Have you ever noticed that Sid's family is bi-racial? My daughter is bi-racial so maybe that's why I focus on that sort of thing. Sid is sort of yellowish and his mom is vaguely orange (she comes across, albeit loosely, as being African-American).

In order to give the kid some sort of incentive to get dressed, I take off her pajamas (and undies) and then leave her with the clothes for the day. You'd think she'd feel a bit awkward about sitting on the couch completely naked watching Curious George. But you'd be wrong if you think that. She lays there quite comfortably, scratching whatever may itch. I give her two or three chances to get herself dressed before I start in with the threats (turning off the TV, sending her off to school naked, etc.)

When she's finally dressed, I do my best to tame her curls. Then we tackle breakfast.

On this particular morning, I was short on time so I asked her to pick out some cereal. She acted as though I'd asked her to scale Mt. Kilimanjaro. She stomped around the kitchen for a bit because she wanted pancakes and surry-up instead.

After some intense negotiations, she agreed to eat breakfast. But, she made it clear that she was NOT happy.

Then, at the end of the day . . . my reward. A little girl who runs out of the school yelling, "Mommy!" And for a little while, that other kid, the morning one, doesn't seem quite so unruly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Picture Day

My daughter had school pictures today. The challenge for me was that she is in the afternoon session of 4K. I send her off the Kindercare each morning looking pretty cute - dress clean, curls bouncing. However, my husband has openly admitted that by the time he picks her up at noon to take her to Kindergarten, she looks like a homeless street urchin. The Little Match girl, in the flesh. Curls have turned to frizz, dress has met up with a marker, face bears the remnants of lunch.

So, what to do? I got her up early today and gave her a new dress to wear. Then I pulled her hair into two braids and . . . shellacked her entire head. I layered on as much hairspray as I could until she waved me away and told me I'd gotten some in her eye.

I guess I'll see what comes back and then purchase one of the fabulous "packages" I have been offered (check #4 to the school, for those who are keeping track). No matter what, I'm sure her photo will be better than the ones taken of me when I was in elementary school. I always hated picture day. I remember standing in line in the barren hallway outside the auditorium. They'd hand each of us a little black ("unbreakable!") comb so that we could tame any wayward strands. It was akin to slaying a dragon with a butter knife. Even then, I knew that not even a fully-loaded salon would help me, so I always just held the comb in my hand until it was my turn. Then, when I was in front of the camera, I would conjure up a smile that involved only my teeth and not any other part of my face. "Claudia, why didn't you SMILE?" my mother would always ask.

"But, I WAS smiling," I would always respond.

I'm sure my daughter's photos will be a marked improvement over what I brought home back in the day. But even if they aren't, if you are reading this and you are related to me, you'll be getting one in the mail either way. Cheers!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's the little things

I am still reeling from the events at work last week. I am like a cat in that I do not cope well with change sometimes. I've been trying to soothe my anxiety with food, but as my sage Weight Watchers leader advised me: "If hunger is not the problem, food is not the answer." I've been repeating this mantra to myself for the past few days, but there is still some little part of me that feels the need to test the theory out just in case food is, as it turns out, the answer.

Rather than wallowing in self-pity yesterday, I got up early and headed to a rescue event about an hour away. It was, I had to admit, a beautiful day. We set up our lure course at a shelter charity walk, and I sat a table selling tug toys and tee shirts. I didn't manage to sell much, persuasive salesperson that I am. Mostly I just fussed over participants' dogs. The event was held at a park on the shores of a large lake, and at one point a large flock of pelicans flew soundlessly overhead in a perfect V formation. I had never seen a flock of pelicans before and I was entranced. I tilted my head back and watched until I couldn't see them anymore. Thereafter I kept scanning the sky and lake in hopes of seeing more of them. I never did, so I decided that the flock I had seen was gift enough.

Later in the morning, I headed to a hot dog stand to buy a soda. As I was waiting in line, I spotted a sign: "Boiled Georgia Peanuts $2.00." When I got to the front of the line, I saw that the booth was manned by an older man and his wife. "Have you been moving a lot of those peanuts?" I asked him. "I haven't seen boiled peanuts since the last time I was in South Carolina." I was truly curious.

The man turned to his wife. "See?" he said. "I told you someone would know!" I explained that I grew up in Virginia and that we often went to Myrtle Beach for family vacations. Down there, you can buy boiled peanuts just about everywhere. There are roadside stands devoted solely to boiled peanuts. We used to eat them every summer.

The hot dog vendor pulled out a styrofoam cup and scooped out some hot peanuts for me. "On the house," he said, handing me the cup. I went back to my table and shelled the nuts. I munched on the mushy goodness inside while my mind was flooded with long-ago summers full of sand and saltwater and ferris wheels.

Later, the man came over and gave me another cup of boiled peanuts. It seemed we were about 1200 miles away from the prime selling area for such a delicacy and he hadn't had a single sale. No one this far north had ever heard of them and weren't inclined to give them a try. I suspect boiled peanuts are one of those things people either love or hate, not unlike marshmallow Peeps.

I offered some to my friend Kate, who had never heard of such a thing. She wrinkled her nose. "I can't believe you're putting those in your mouth," she said as I shelled another nut. "I brought brownies and you're eating THAT?"

When tragedy strikes, maybe the little things just seem to bounce into focus a little more. Here's to pelicans and peanuts!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Yesterday at work, two of my co-workers were let go. We were a very small web development team - just five people. The President of the company was relieved of duty in July, and two more team members were lost yesterday. Now there are just two of us. More of a duo than a team, I guess.

This is the first time the sinking economy has had such a major impact on my life. The shareholders are looking to sell the company and I will probably lose my job when the company is sold. They want me to hang in there until then. An old friend posted condolences on my Facebook page and mentioned "survivor's guilt." I think he was dead on. I feel terrible for my co-workers who lost their jobs and I have no idea why I was spared (at least for now).

So, I have nothing witty to say this week. Looking at my co-workers' empty desks makes me physically ill. I didn't sleep at all last night and found myself at 2:30 a.m. watching Dr. Phil episodes saved on my DVR. The dogs were confused. Is it morning, and if so, shouldn't you be feeding us? I went to the grocery store last night and felt an overwhelming desire to binge on something horrible. It's disappointing to realize that even with four years of Weight Watchers meetings behind me, I'm still :::this::: close to consoling myself with baked goods. Gluttony, thy name is brownie bites.

I feel fortunate to have a job, even though it is a job that is now almost impossible to do. This bites. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, economy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Sunflower

You may recall that back in the Spring, A kept telling everyone that she and I were going to have a fabulous time growing sunflowers together. Seeing as how I had no intention of growing sunflowers and had not proposed any such project to her, I was a bit perplexed. I've never been much of a gardener. Along the lines of "the frugal gourmet" or "the thrifty traveler," I call myself "the haphazard gardener." I throw seeds in dirt and hope for the best. I never save the package and so when something does sprout, I have no recollection of what it might be. I like surprises.

In April, I took the kid to the gardening store and we bought some starter trays and a few packs of seeds, including sunflower seeds. We dutifully planted everything and waited patiently, watering our dirt each day. But then, my friend Kevin died and I had to fly out for his funeral during the seedlings' crucial first days. When I transplanted what was left of the plants in May, none of the sunflowers seemed to have survived. However, one seed somehow landed among the petunias and so . . . we have one solitary but mighty sunflower. Behold!

I also feel compelled to share one additional photo. Last Saturday we took a family trip to our local wildlife sanctuary. The squirrels and chipmunks were in quite a pre-winter frenzy, busily stealing seeds and such that had been set out for the birds. This little chipmunk was so pre-occupied with stuffing his cheeks (literally) that he didn't notice I was lying on the ground with a camera just inches away.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I can't imagine why any young child would ever be used as a witness in a court case. It shouldn't happen in any court, in any country, at any time. There is generally no malice behind it, but . . . they lie like rugs. I always think of all those daycare workers who were railroaded in the 80s, with some of them sitting behind bars for years because the prevailing theory at the time was "children don't lie." Obviously a parent needs to take their child's word for it and do some investigating if the child says he/she has been touched inappropriately, but if the kid claims that his/her daycare provider was conducting ritualistic animal sacrifices and forcing the children to drink blood . . . ah, maybe not.

My own daughter is, at times, not all that well acquainted with truth. They have been introduced, but truth is often cast aside, like the unpopular kid on the playground who is left out of the kickball game time and time again. Sometimes the teacher forces the kids to be friends with truth, but it never lasts.

Here is a recent example:

Me: Who spit toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror?

Her: Ella. She came up here and spit all over it.

Ella Fitzkitty is, of course, our cat. She is more comfortable downstairs, away from the dogs, so that is where she generally stays (the basement is carpeted and she has a couple of couches as well as one of those kitty condo things next to the window). We have a cat flap on the basement door so that she can come upstairs, but I really thinks she only attempts it when we're not home and the dogs are in their crates. She dislikes our daughter, hates the dogs, and barely tolerates me and my husband.

Me: You mean to tell me that Ella came upstairs, climbed up on the bathroom counter, filled her mouth with your Spongebob toothpaste, and then spewed it all over the mirror?

Her (nodding): That naughty cat.

Sometimes it is Gretchen who performs the evil deeds. A has a set of princess dolls that she adores. The princesses have these little rubbery outfits that are, even for an adult, somewhat difficult to get on and off. If I were her, I'd just keep Cinderella and the gang in whatever outfit they arrived in. But, it seems that daily costume changes are needed. Sometimes she asks P and me to wrestle Sleeping Beauty into a ball gown, and sometimes she attempts it on her own. This is how Jasmine lost her head. Literally. The guilty party hid the body and put the head back in the bag, which was no doubt horrifying to Snow White. She's got a delicate constitution, you know.

Yesterday, I noticed that several of the bodices and tops were torn. "What happened here?" I asked.

"Oh, Gretchen did that."

Even if Gretchen did get her paws on the princesses and their communal wardrobe, she would have chewed up the pieces and, in all likelihood, swallowed them. No, the clothes were torn by a curly-headed girl who lost her temper a few times. It reminds me of when she was two and she got a train set for Christmas. She couldn't figure it out so she did the sensible thing, which was to erupt into a fury and bite the plastic track. That phase lasted the better part of a year: if something pisses you off, just bite it.

As a final example of the fibbing that goes on in our house lately . . . before church this morning I asked the kid if she had brushed her teeth. She assured me that she definitely had, but something seemed off.

"Um, I think I'll just check and see if your toothbrush is wet," I told her.

She paused. "Oh, you don't have to check, Mommy. I brushed them." As if I might, in turn, say, "Well, of course I don't. What was I thinking?"

She ran to the bathroom and blocked the doorway, spreading her arms and legs as wide as she could against the door frame. "You really don't need to check!" she exclaimed. I pushed through and grabbed one of her six toothbrushes, all of which were dry as a bone. I squirted some toothpaste onto the bristles and handed it to the kid.

"Well, just brush them again," I suggested.

On one hand, her tactic of blaming the cat and dogs for everything is vaguely clever in that they can't defend themselves verbally. What she doesn't seem to acknowledge, though, is the pure implausibility of her explanations. As if it might actually make perfect sense that our hapless tabby spits toothpaste on the mirror every chance she gets.

I finally sat the kid down and tried to lay it out for her.

"You're an only child, do you know what that means?" She shook her head. "Well, it means that you don't have any brothers and sisters living here. It's just you. So, everything that happens in this house . . . is your fault."

Undeterred, she skipped back to her bedroom and grabbed her bag o'princesses. She proceeded to put Sleeping Beauty in Jasmine's harem pants. Jasmine, what with not having a body and all, apparently won't be needing them.

She of dastardly deeds

(Note to my friends who say that Ella doesn't exist: There she is! Blow me!)

Friday, September 4, 2009

And so it begins

I entered the public school system (in Maryland) in 1975. We moved to Virginia in 1978/79 - somewhere in there. My youngest sister graduated high school in 2000. My mother often says, "I dealt with the school system for 25 years!" She wears it like a badge of honor.

I am not the type who thinks that public schools are inferior to private schools (or home schooling, for that matter). I truly believe that a kid gets out of her education exactly what she puts into it. But, I'm starting to get a feel for what my mother was talking about. My mother remarried in 1981, which meant that my middle sister and I had a different last name from our mom. Well, you would have thought we were the first family in the history of Fairfax County Public Schools to have a divorce. If my sister got in trouble, the school would call and ask for Mrs. Same-Last-Name-as-My-Sister. My mom corrected them endlessly, but it never took. Then of course there is just the normal tree killing that goes on: permission slips, detention slips (my middle sister, not me - I'm a goody-two-shoes from way back), miscellaneous newsletters, report cards, etc. My mom was tired of signing stuff well before the end of the 80's.

I entered a relationship with our city's school system earlier this year, when I submitted an application to enroll my child in four-year-old Kindergarten (4K). I requested the afternoon class and they put her in the morning class. Half a dozen phone calls later, she was moved into the afternoon class.

The next hurdle was transportation. We needed to find some way to get her from Kindercare over to the elementary school each day. I haven't measured it precisely, but I think it's about two miles. I called the school. "You'd have to talk to the transportation coordinator," I was told. Okay, no problem. I called the transportation coordinator. "Oh no, we can't bus her from that Kindercare. It's in a different school district."

"Well, what if I transferred her to the Kindercare that's closer to the school?" I asked.

"We can't transport her from there either. It's considered a walking location." Sure, let me send my four-year-old down two busy roads to get to school. That sounds reasonable.

I was offered one other option, which was that I could pay the bus line directly for transportation. Since one of the reasons we enrolled our daughter in 4K was to attempt to reduce our childcare costs, this seemed counter-intuitive. I was just about to give up completely when P declared that he would pick her up and drive her every day himself.

Before the start of the school year, I received a list of school supplies that I was expected to purchase. Most are for communal use, such as crayons, pencils, and watercolor paints. A friend of mine was required to buy 23 glue sticks (20 for the class and 3 labeled specifically for their son), so I felt like I was getting off easy by comparison. I dutifully purchased everything on the list and then dropped it off at the school during a meet-the-teacher session. During that session, I picked up a yellow folder that I have been instructed to keep in my child's backpack. The yellow folder, it seems, is the main conduit for information flowing from the teacher to the parents and then back again.

The yellow folder instructed me to send in some crackers (in addition to the "healthy snack" I had already been asked to purchase). Well, what kind of crackers? I wondered. Graham crackers, animal crackers, Ritz, Saltines, WHAT? I sent in some graham crackers and hoped for the best. I knew not to send anything with peanut butter in/on it.

I also received and filled out two emergency contact forms (one for the teacher and one for the school office). I thought I was all caught up but then . . . on the third day of school, the yellow folder came home with a new list of instructions. Now I needed to send a smock. But wait, there's more. I received an "inclement weather policy" form that I was required to sign. Oh no, that's not all. I didn't tell you about the milk form yet. Milk is $.30 a day. I can send in any amount of money I'd like and it will be placed in a fund for my child. The program is optional - if I do not send in milk money, my child will be given water. I can just see it now. 16 kids drinking milk and my forlorn little lass sitting there with plain old water because, "My mom was too cheap to buy milk!" I will be sending in a check toute de suite.

The final bit of bewilderment is over the school year calendar. As far as I can tell, not a week will go by where there isn't some sort of special circumstance that I'll need to accommodate. If the date has a square around it, it's early dismissal. If it has a circle around it, it's a delayed start day. If it has a triangle around it, the teachers will all be out drinking and we should keep our brats at home.

If all goes well, my daughter will graduate in 2023. I plan to lose my mind by 2015 at the latest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


That's what time school ends. Not 3:30, not 3:35. 3:33 p.m. I don't know why this strikes me as odd, but it does.

My baby started 4K (four-year-old Kindergarten) today. It's from 12:30 to 3:33 p.m. Monday through Thursday. She's at Kindercare for the first half of the day and then heads over to the elementary school for the afternoon.

You may be wondering if I got all weepy. I didn't. Okay, I did - but only for a second. She appeared to be the smallest one in the class and yet she looked strangely grown-up as she filed into the school building with her new classmates.