Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Please pass the anesthesia

Traveling with children in a state that restricts the sale of alcohol is a little like waking up during the middle of brain surgery. You know you are supposed to be here, on the trip, with four children, but is it supposed to be this painful? Where are the easily accessible safety measures, like wine and Tylenol (in that order) that prevent one from feeling the scalpel carve into the frontal lobe like a dull switchblade whittling on a piece of driftwood? Did the guy behind the counter of the Shell station mini-mart just tell me that they don’t sell wine, or even beer? Sorry?

“You’ll have to go down the street to the all night deli. They only sell beer, but they close in 10 minutes.”

“Sorry??” I said again, even more desperately. It was only quarter to nine. “The all night deli closes in ten minutes?”

“Yep,” was the clerk’s calm reply. Just what the heck was going on around here? I was starting to think that being Amish wasn’t a choice – it was forced up on the people of this state through the withholding of any vices!

Off we went, just about 250 yards, with plenty of time to spare. Sure enough, there was a sign up ahead: All Night Deli. That’s it. I thought we’d be looking for a place called Yoder’s Deli, or the End of Days Diner (we were in Lancaster County, after all). The news wasn’t good. Turned out, they couldn't sell liquor after 8 p.m. Defeated, I trudged back to the car with an hours old bratwurst and a bag of pistachios. If I couldn’t have my Zinfandel, I’d numb myself with food.

Two bites into my dog, my husband left for the vending machine, wishing he’d had a brat himself, and then re-appeared fifteen minutes later with a bottle of wine in each hand. “You’ll never guess what happened!” he said proudly, as if he were Gilligan, and I Ginger, and in his hands were a blow dryer and curling iron.

“Where did you get those!?” I said, with growing confidence that I was, in fact, looking at actual bottles and not hallucinating.

“I met a wine salesman in the lobby and his meeting for tomorrow just got cancelled; he gave me the samples after he overheard me talking on my cell phone.”

“I’d sure like to know who the hell he planned to sell the wine to!" I muttered.

Now, where did I put that IV drip…

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Please Pass the Bullets

If a 10 year old boy drops his pencil in the middle of the kitchen for the fifth time while gearing up to start doing his homework, does his mom hear it even if her head has popped off?

The answer is Yes. In fact, she continues to hear it the 6th, 7th, and 8th times, even after her head has rolled down the hall and out the front door.

Why is it that when I say, “Jay, get out your homework,” he hears, “Jay, observe and comment on every molecule within a three-foot radius of your notebook.” Of course, I’m exaggerating a little bit. Sometimes he hears, “Jay, go to the fridge and open it; stare blankly for three minutes. Close it and wander over to the window and watch the cats watch the gopher holes."

It isn’t until at least 9 p.m. when the really mundane things begin to catch his attention. More disturbing are the nights that I run out of wine around this same time. Like last night, when I took the last sip as I heard this:

“I think I see a fruitfly.”

“Keep working.”

"Do you think the dog is cold out there?"

"Keep working."

(noise of ice dropping into icemaker in fridge)

“What was that!?” he says with an edge of anxiety in his voice, as though there is actually some possibility of me answering, “I have no idea! Get out of the house quick!! Run down the street to Bradley’s house and play video games until the police come get you and tell you it’s safe to return!!!”

It’s 9:30. The third and final paragraph of this behemoth of an assignment is halfway finished. There’s still a math page to do and spelling words to review.

"Honey, I'm going to the store..."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Don't everyone answer at once

Everyone knows about the laws in the universe, like gravity, that keep our feet on the ground. Equally well known is the ninth law of thermodynamics, which states that sitting on black vinyl car seats in the middle of August really hurts. And who doesn't know about the law governing the speed of light, which in my house involves a competitive sprint to bed each night, leaving the loser responsible for turning off the lamp in the corner. Everyone knows about those laws, but it takes a seasoned parent to detect, and understand, the law that governs the functions of auditory processing in children. I call it, the Law of Don't Everyone Talk at Once, because that's what you find yourself saying, whether you mean it literally or sarcastically.

In scientific terms, it goes like this: "A child's voice operates disproportionately to his parents' need to hear it." In laymen terms it means that when you really need the little people to pipe down, their "off switch" is jammed in the "on" position; other times, like when when you discover a game of tic-tac-toe on the dining room wall drawn in purple Sharpie, suddenly everone's on "mute." It happened to me just the other day...

"Who did this?" I announced, not even bothering to play the reverse psychology game of staying easy-breezy in order to flesh out the culprit. That's when I avoid making any eye contact and casually mention, "Oh, I was just wondering, no big deal, if anyone remembers who may have accidentally put a mark over there on that wall..." In those cases, it's always easy to spot the guilty one if you're really paying attention because they consider fessing up for about one nano-second, before their common sense reminds them it's a trap. In that brief moment, the eyes will lower and the mouth will droop, for just an instant. But that's long enough! You've got them! On this particular day, like I said, I didn't bother with highly evolved modes of interrogation. I was annoyed and I wanted my man. My query was met with total silence.

"Well, Don't Everyone Answer at Once," I snapped. Shoulders were shrugging all over the room, a room so quiet that you could hear the spider on the wall breathe a sigh of relief as the fly landed in his web with a dull "poof." At that point I had to start grilling them individually, utilizing all of my FBI body-language training. After three nopes, I had my man (well, woman). Her answer? "I don't remember."

So, why is it that when you want kids to talk, they can make clams seem blabby, but when you really, really, really need a little quiet time, the voices are like hail, raining straight down on your brain? For some reason, as it gets close to dinner time, this phenomena is at its peak in my house. One by one they file up to the counter bar and simultaneously begin rapid-firing their requests:

"Can I have just ketchup and a teeny, teeny bit of mayo on my hamburger?"

"Can I have pickles on the side and no bun?"

"Can I have mustard, a lot of ketchup, and mom?? Can I have lettuce, but under the burger on the bottom bun?"

"Mom? Can I have..."

"PLEASE DON'T EVERYONE TALK AT ONCE!!" I shout. At that moment, those boys in The Deer Hunter have nothing on me. Give me the goddamn gun!! Spin that chamber and let her rip!!

Suddenly, everyone's on mute again and the laws of the universe are working in my favor.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So Many Questions

Just when you think you're getting somewhere as a parent, when your well-thought out lecture or explanation of a critical issue or situation rolls off your tongue like a strike right down the middle, your kid throws you a curveball. Take, for instance, the profound discussion I had the other day with my almost-11 year-old son who thinks he needs to begin wearing deodorant. I explained that until his body starts changing, and he begins going through puberty (immediate smirk on his face), he really doesn't need deodorant. He wasn't buying it, and a little later in the day approached me and tugged up his t-shirt. "Mom, smell. I need deodorant." Okay, I thought, I'll give this moment to him. I bent down a bit and took a whiff near his armpit. "Whoa. You're right." I recoiled in shock as my mind processed this turn of events. My little guy was growing up. Not only that, he was taking after his mom. Depressing. Then, the next day, came The Question that made me feel as though we'd taken a giant step backward in the realm of understanding bodily functions. "Mom, do they make shin-deodorant?" I didn't know quite what to do with that, but guessed that the season's first soccer game on a 95 degree day, combined with those hideously polyester kneesocks had something to do with it. "No," I replied; shins sweat, but they don't stink, luckily.

By far the best question he's ever asked that has made me question my ability to explain the world to him, was after our first 'birds and bees' talk. I was fairly frank, included all the requisite body parts and where they go, and when he pulled his face from the half-buried position in his comforter, asked me this: "If you want more than one kid, do you have to do it again?" My answer was a tight-lipped "Yes" as I wondered what was coming next. Yep, he didn't disappoint: "So, you and dad had to do it once for me and once for sister?" Crap. Now what? Is this where I am supposed to explain that there are other reasons for doing it? That there is also the "no particular reason, but with plenty of birth control" purpose? I quickly scanned my brain's hard drive for the file entitled, "Too Much Information." I mentally opened it. I had my answer: "That's right. Twice. Let's go eat dinner."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Back at the Ranch

There was a big difference between the first day of school last year, and the first day of school this year, for both me and my kids. This year, they went. I didn't.

The decision to leave teaching, and pick up my former career as a freelance writer, was made to salvage the ol' grey matter, and therefore be a more sane mom, woman, wife and friend. I can already tell it was the right one - as evidenced by the fact that not once this morning did I have to do what I call, The Mom Move. That is, when I feel that my head will surely pop off, which usually happens four or five times each morning that my four children and I, and my husband (also a teacher) are getting ready for school, I bite down hard on my tongue. It's like an emergency brake for my head. I bite hard, hold for three seconds, then release. My head doesn't go into orbit, no blood is shed, and amazingly enough, whatever ridiculous thing my kid was doing has stopped. It's like they can sense The Move, even though my mouth is closed. They smell it. Like a wise mouse, they back away from the mousetrap and scamper to some undisclosed location.

This year, on Opening Day, I was just a mom. This year, one breakfast was served at one time - it wasn't five people scurrying around a kitchen, gathering bowls, plates, spoons and forks while the sixth person asked a variety of questions about the lunches he was making for the whole crew. "Strawberry or Raspberry?" "Who wants ham?" "Who wants mayo?" Who wants a poke in the eye with a sharp stick? Today, I put a platter of scrambled eggs and toast on the table at 6:45. My husband, who loves his title of Lunch Guy, used a list I typed up with each kids' sandwich likes and dislikes, and made lunches without a game of 200 questions. He didn't have to stop and pour milk or butter waffles because I was still upstairs trying to create flat hair. I did breakfast, he did lunch, and the kids did great. At 7 a.m., I headed up to change clothes, help out with pony-tails and stubborn cow-licks, locate missing socks, and we headed out at 7:40. Best of all, no tears were shed in the making of this morning.

Fifteen minutes later (ah, the beauty of a small town) I was back home, at my computer, working away. The budget will be tight, but the load will be lighter. A few other things will be different as well. For instance, I picked up the kids from school. They didn't have to scurry around the play ground looking for the shuttle driver that brings them to the high school. Instead, we walked home, I layed on the living room floor, and one-by-one, my son and three daughters told me about their day. They listened to one another and I listened too - with no papers to grade in front of me, and no nagging worries on my mind. I even asked questions about the things they were telling me. Not so long ago, I often did the auto-nod and "hmm" response when they spoke to me. Or, they weren't telling me things at all because I was too distracted to notice the "I have something to tell you" look and too overwhelmed to truly do anything about it if I did. Only one of my four will really open up to me without me having to ask. The other three need a little prodding.

So, now, instead of being a cattle dog, herding them toward the tv, or herding them toward the computer so I can get some serious work, or worrying done, I'm a cattle prod. I poke, I prod, I like it.


Monday, February 25, 2008

The Stick Diet

For many people, the county fair brings to mind fond childhood memories of thrilling rides, crazy loops around the fun house and the smell of goat manure in the morning. There really is nothing quite like it. Except for the smell coming from the food stalls. Stalls? Yes, because that’s where throngs of hungry animals - the two-legged variety - go to graze on stick food. The Stick Diet is the only one I’ve ever stuck to.

I like to open my four-day diet plan with a deep-fried artichoke heart on a stick. It is a strange concept, as it is kind of a strange thing, the heart of an artichoke. Only in America would someone take something unique and exotic, pierce it with a piece of wood, fry the life out of it and sell it for a profit. Speaking of profit, just what is the mark-up on cotton candy? Last time I glanced at my recipe card for the space-age looking stuff, there was just one word on it: Sugar. Is it a recipe if there’s only one ingredient? I mean, is there a recipe for banana? Anyway, if you really want to get technical and count air as an ingredient, then you might actually have a recipe for cotton candy. How much are they making on that stuff? Whatever it is, it’s way too much. It does however, come on a stick and therefore, I get to eat it.

And who doesn’t like corn dogs? Well, my mom, for starters. She hasn’t eaten a corn dog since she was 8-years-old, when she consumed the original stick-food at our very own county fair. Let’s just say it wasn’t the last she saw of it…There is one thing I never consume at the fair, and that’s candy or caramel apples. Too healthy. It does contain the required stick, and therefore part of the diet plan, but the presence of that apple, all natural and juicy and obviously grown on a tree just ruins the whole experience. One would have to consume a helluva lot of fry bread to cancel out a crisp, fresh apple. Even corn-on-the-cob gets stuck with a stick, and really just barely qualifies due to the natural nature of corn itself. The saving grace is that it’s slathered in butter and doused with salt. It could only be better if it was fried.

Asian food has gone stick also, with the introduction of the eggroll on a stick just a few years ago. I remember seeing that little hut for the first time and wondering what happens when you bite into a bunch of shredded cabbage on a stick? Doesn’t it just fall apart? My guess is that cabbage isn’t the main ingredient, but most likely some meat product is, one that packs nicely around the little wooden spear. I passed on that one.

If only someone can figure out how to put nachos on a stick, I could add them to the Stick Diet. Maybe if I load them into my mouth with a stick borrowed from the deep fried mushroom stand, it would qualify…