Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Cloudy With A Chance of Vacuuming

Greetings from Wisconsin! Mother Nature was incredibly accomodating, and we woke up to snow the first morning here. It was a only a smidge by Northern Standards, but to my kids it was a veritable blizzard. It was enough to make a snowball, and so it was enough to make them happy. We could leave today and it would have been worth the 15 hour drive to them. is a piece that I wrote just about this time last year. It seems appropriate and relvant, so I will repost for your reading pleasure.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Vacuuming

Today, in honor of housewives everywhere, I want to talk about something which epitomizes the spirit of housewifery and all it stands for. The vacuum cleaner.

Most of us give little thought to our vacuum cleaner. We plug it in, zoom it around, and lose ourselves in thought or the absence of it, while the wonder of modern machinery sucks the nitty-gritty of our lives into its bowels. We turn it off and tuck it away with no thought to the truly miraculous technology that has spared us from the sheer barbary of beating rugs in searing heat or freezing cold. Only when we find ourselves without the aide of such a marvelous machine, do we realize how much we depend upon it.

It was just such a moment, mere hours after the dawn of a New Year, that had me wondering how many other women in the world were facing the exact same kind of crisis and if they felt as astoundingly bereft and disconcertingly hopeless as I at the loss.

My cheap but reasonably reliable Hoover; bought as a stand in for my Fantom while awaiting a replacement part, (of which, apparently, there are exactly two in the known world) became my primary vacuum due to the death of said Fantom a mere two weeks after I donated half my liver to an ailing quadrillionaire to acquire said part. The poor Hoover never was quite up to the task of Hoovering the whole house, but I had been holding out until we could afford a "really good" vacuum, before I put her out to pasture as the upstairs vacuum. Alas, she never lived to see that joyous day. She took one look at the ominously thick pile of pine needles on the living room rug, shuddered, and died. Poor little Hoover. She served me well.

So today, after a few short hours in which we managed to track pine needles into every one of the 2200 sq feet of the house, upstairs and down; including, strangely, all three toilets, where they floated festively, imparting a lovely pine fresh scent to the uniquely fetid miasma that seems ever present in a bathroom used solely by male children, despite the fact that I erected a Lego barricade and established a ten foot no tread zone around the pile where once stood our proud Christmas tree, we went to Target to buy pretty much anything that could suck.

I was immediately drawn to the Dysons, which came in eye catching shades of yellow, teal and magenta. A gargantuan portrait of the well-spoken bespectacled English spokesman graced the aisle, with his erudite tagline dangling from the fluorescent light fixtures. "I just think things should work properly" hit me like a visual epiphany as I rounded the corner into the vacuum cleaner aisle. However, despite such effective marketing, I found myself unable to part with $500 dollars in the post Christmas financial wasteland on the mere promise that it won't lose suction. For that kind of money, I want it written in blood. His blood.

I reluctantly tore myself away from the sleek, gleaming and plentiful row of Dysons, and began to comparison shop in earnest. This, I quickly realized, was futile in the presence of my two elementary aged boys. Boys as you know, lack the shopping chromosome, and are genetically programmed to treat every shopping trip as a seek and destroy mission. After a very frustrating fifteen minutes in which I tried to compare brands, features, and costs while my dear progeny frolicked among the aisles, (frolic = Commence very loud and obnoxious warfare by shooting passersby with finger pistols and occasionally feigning a grisly mortal wound) I found myself considering my youngest son’s advice to choose a particular model based upon the fact that it resembled a submarine.

But I came to my senses, and after plying them with slushies and corralling the diminutive one in the cart while he slurped himself into a sugar coma, whereupon the pre-pubescent one wandered off happily to the nearby video game aisle, I began to make some real progress. My question about the number of other housewives in the same predicament was answered when I realized that the pickins were mighty slim amongst the moderately priced models, and the cheapest models; those just one step above the Wizard of Oz special, were completely sold out. As luck would have it, the model that I finally decided upon, was also sold out.

Did I take this lying down? No, I did not. I was in the midst of a full blown needle crisis, and I was not going home without a vacuum cleaner. And not just any vacuum cleaner, but THIS vacuum cleaner. The object of my desire was a removable canister vac to use on stairs and I would not settle for anything less. Those of who have tried to vacuum steps with a cumbersome upright perched precariously upon them can no doubt understand my all consuming need to own a machine of such wondrously innovative and intelligent design. Why the Dyson guy didn’t think of it is a mystery. Too busy worrying about suction…I suppose. Anyway, having spent far too many harrowing moments balancing on one knee straining to reach the maximum number of steps, whilst the other knee endeavored to keep the damnable machine from crashing to the bottom and me along with it, this model had become the Holy Grail of vacuum cleaners.

I was so determined that I resorted to drastic measures. That’s right. I solicited the help of a sales associate. Whom I finally found six aisles away. In the toy department. Leaving for his break. Uncharacteristically insistent, I requested that he summon help on his little walkie talkie thing. You know…that thing that has the power to turn a mere mortal man into…Da dada DA!…CAPTAIN ASSSSOOOOOOOCIATE!!!

I’m not sure if it was the murderous gleam in my eye, or the reckless desperation in my voice, but he complied. Reinforcements arrived, only to inform me in an exceptionally weary tone…the kind of tone one takes with a four year old that has been told for the umpteenth time that there are no monsters under the bed… that this particular model was completely sold out, and no, I could not have the one on display. Again, uncharacteristically insistent, I requested that he call another area store to see if they had it in stock. The response to this was somewhat startling, as I have never actually seen anyone with all of the blood in their body accumulating in their face. Nobody that wasn’t wearing a leotard and stage make-up, that is. I’m not really sure why this was such an angst inspiring request. I would think that honoring such requests kinda comes with the…DA dada DA! CAPTAIN ASSSSSOOOOOOCIATE!....uniform.

Anyway...alls well that ends well, as another local Target had the desired model in stock. We braved the rush hour traffic and headed to the other side of town with our eyes on the prize. That’s a lie. My eye was on the prize. Their eyes were glazed over with the unmistakable vacancy of retail overload syndrome, or R.O.S, as it’s more commonly known. Those of you without male children have probably seen this look on your husband’s face, especially if he has been forced to hold your purse for an extended period of time, which seems to rapidly accelerate the onset of symptoms.

When at last we reached the other store, I hoisted the diminutive one into the cart, protesting, and sans slushie, so that we could proceed with maximum speed to the rear of the store. I strode through the store like a woman possessed, callously bypassing the Toy, Electronics, and DVD’s departments, deaf to the plaintive cries of my boys, who were now in the all too familiar critical stage of R.O.S.. The next stage was complete system meltdown, which, if not counteracted immediately with fart jokes, extreme sports, or beer, (for sufferers over 21) could result in a related syndrome: E.S.P - Extreme Shopping Psychosis; which is the irrational belief that once one has entered a retail establishment, there is no escape. I had to act fast.

At last we reached the Housewares department and located the object of my desire. I laid my hands upon the gleaming ruby fuselage of the demo model and sighed deeply in contentment. One box left. I unceremoniously tossed the diminutive one out of the cart on his ear and hefted the large box in. That box was the size of a small automobile, and I have no idea where I found the brute force necessary. Pperhaps it is the same phenomenon that is responsible for mothers exhibiting super human strength in the face of mortal danger to their children. After another mad dash through the store, and a moment of abject terror at the checkout stand when I suffered from the irrational fear that my credit card would be declined…..

The Bissell Lift Off Turbo Upright Vacuum was mine.

By the time we reached home, my back was in agony, having spent an hour in traffic during which the overtaxed and under used muscles of my back contracted into twin balls of agony on either side of my spine. I couldn’t even slide my bounty out of the van. But no matter. Just to possess it was a thing of great beauty and happiness.

My children stared as I removed the Lego barrier and beckoned them maniacally to frolic among the needles. And as they did so, hesitantly, their eyes wide with suspicion, but afraid to disobey…I smiled. The forecast for tomorrow? Cloudy with a chance of vacuuming.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

B.A. Signing off until the New Year

Tomorrow is Christmas of course, and after that, I, Husband and the boys will be travelling to Wisconsin to visit my family. I only get to see my sister and her children once a year, my folks twice. I will not be wasting one precious moment blogging. Not that I don't adore all of you out in blogland, you see. But my family....every day I spend away from them I die a little bit more. I miss them with all my heart and soul. A Christmas miracle for me, would not be having to come back here. To stay, and take my place with them. To put down roots where in the place where I first bloomed. SIGH.


Blogs Are Stupid will be on hiatus until January 9th, or thereabouts. It really depends upon how heinous the vacation aftermath proves to be. I will try to pop on and post pieces from my archives now and then, just to keep things lively.

In the meantime, I hope you and yours have a peaceful and joyous holiday season. I hope the New Year finds you all safe and sound. I hope the year 2007 will bring you happiness, growth, and fulfillment.

Kiss your children, and keep the magic alive. Mine are 8 and 12. The magic is ending this year, I think. My oldest has been diligent about protecting the secret, but Diminutive One is no dummy. He knows, though he pretends that he doesn't. I think he does it more for me than for himself. That kid.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah. Peach On Earth. Good will to Men.



Saturday, December 23, 2006

Joining The Ranks

I am not one of those women who cry. It pisses me off to cry. That should tell you a little something about how I perceive myself. But contrary to what you might think, I am not emotionally crippled, callous, or cold. Quite the opposite is true, actually.

I am not tough as nails, though I do like that I am sometimes perceived that way.

The truth is, that I am a big, fat, emotional sap.

And the reason I don't let myself cry, is that I am acutely aware of the fact that if I begin, I may not stop. And I do not cry prettily. Oh no. I cry with great big donkey sobs and streams of snot and eyes that swell up after just a few moments.

So I just don't let myself start.

But lately, it seems, I have lost my ability to choke them back, turn them off... to SUCK IT UP, as it were.

Some instances that have turned me into a quivering pile of teary goo recently:

  • Watching Bing Crosby's Christmas special as he tells his daughter the story of the little matchgirl. Jesus.

  • Watching Little House on the Prairie Christmas Special "Christmas at Plum Creek". You know, where Laura sells her horse to Nellie Olsen (and we all know how that ends up, don't we??) to buy Ma a stove, but Pa made her a saddle? And then Ma finds out Laura sold her horse, and she tries to stop her. "She LOVES that horse!" Ma tells Pa. And Pa replies, "Caroline, she loves YOU more." Fer the Love of Mike.

  • Listening to John Berry sing "O Holy Night". Sniffle.

  • Ditto for Bing and David Bowie singing "Little Drummer Boy". Snerk.

  • Overhearing a boy about the age of Diminutive One in Target the other day saying to his mother. "Oh, Mom, look. Wouldn't Granny have loved this? Too bad we can't mail stuff to heaven." Snivel.

  • Watching Husband's Boss's wife tear up at the Christmas party, when her husband made a speech thanking her for staying by his side through good times and bad. Quiver, quiver, sigh.

  • Having a co-worker and friend tell me "You know, Husband is head over heels for you. It's so obvious how much he loves you. I would give anything to have that." Good Grief there's no stopping this one!! Sob, sob, sniffle sob.

  • Seeing a friend share an long hidden truth with close friends, sure they would turn away, only to find that they loved her just the same, if not more. Heavens to Betsy.

Perhaps it is the homesickness that is nearly crippling this time of year. Perhaps it is finding that the Christmas spirit, which so often eludes me, is still alive in me somewhere. Perhaps it is just that this time of year really makes me realize how fantastically lucky I am.

((Shrug)). Whichever the case, it seems that for the time being at least, I of those women who cries.

S'not so bad.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go sob into a pot of Chicken Dumpling soup. DAMN you "A Very Brady Christmas".

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dear Christina Aguilera,

I'm not really a fan, but I am familiar with your work. In most cases, I find you pleasant enough to listen to. However, I do have a small request to make.

Respectfully, if you cannot sing in that key, reach that note, remember those words, or otherwise perform Christmas Carols exactly as they were written and as they have been performed for decades, and in some cases, centuries....


I am a traditionalist, you see, as are, I believe, most folks when it comes to Christmas carols. I do not believe these songs are improved by dubious vocal acrobatics, impressive though they undoubtedly are to your masses of adoring tone deaf fans. I do not believe that speaking, shouting or shrieking the lyrics to these songs is "innovative".

Let me do you a kindness and clue you in to the fact that you are not fooling anyone by changing the arrangement or the key. We are quite aware that the "fresh new spin" you put on our beloved carols is to disguise the fact that your voice is not up to the task of performing them.

Not that there is any shame in that. O Holy Night is an incredibly difficult piece to perform. Only people with true ability and competent instruction can pull it off, and let's just be honest...that eliminates about 98% of contemporary artists.

For an example of near perfect execution, please listen to John Berry sing O Holy Night. Really, his entire Christmas repertoire is flawless.

THAT is how to sing a Christmas Carol. Those little bumps on your skin? Those are goosepimples.

Thank You,

A Godless Heathen who is inexplicably moved by Christcentric carols and who is not amused when they are bastardized by adolescent Poptarts.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


This past weekend we attended Husband's family Christmas potluck. He has 9 aunts and uncles, so there's usually quite a crowd. And it's a diverse crowd at that.

Some of them are just like Husband and me, but twangier. Some are country to the core; simple folks with simple values. And some could have been extras in Deliverance. I am not exaggerating even a little bit. I have to say though, that even uncle Jimmy, who is like the Hillbilly Grisly Adams, has a certain charm to him. Though he scared me a little bit (okay, a lot) the first time I met him, it's hard not to like him. He's what they call "good people" as are most of the attendees.

There are however, some not so good people. There are black sheep in every family, I suppose, and Husband's family, being unusually large, has more than average. But they mostly stay away, or make a brief appearance to hug and kiss Nanny and deliver her gift. This year Nanny is gone. Its the first Christmas without her. So though there was the usual Christmas gaiety, her absense was felt. Some just couldn't confront the incongruously huge hole left by their tiny Nanny, and the crowd this year was noticeably smaller.

Because the family is so large, there are still people I don't know, even after 13 years of Christmas potlucks. So I wasn't surprised when I spied a little girl I hadn't seen before. She was about four, maybe 5. In contrast to most of the other little girls that age, who were dressed in their holiday best and painstakingly groomed, this little girl was wearing ragged blue jeans and her hair was dishevelled. But her shabby appearnce could not diguise the fact that she was a beautiful child. She had curly blonde hair, china blue eyes, and huge cheeks that were flushed pink with excitement.

I noticed her because she was seated at the same table as us, with three desserts in front of her.

Husband chuckled and described how she had asked him to cut her a piece of apple crumb cake. He asked, motioning, if she wanted a piece that big, or that big. She said she wanted a piece THAT big. Husband, to whom diminutive females in distress are like kryptonite, was powerless to refuse. He cut her a piece THAT big.

I scolded him good naturedly about letting her have three desserts, but he swore to me that he had only served her one. Apparently two other hapless adults had fallen prey to her charms as well.

I asked Sister-In-Law who the child's mother was. Tight lipped, she named the cousin in question and made the family connections for me, which had become automatic for her when discussing the various branches of their unusually large family tree.

I knew her mother only by sight. She's a brittle looking woman; the kind that other women eye with caution. The kind that men are happy to hook up with because there's no need for the preliminary niceties, unless sharing swigs of Cuervo out of a paper bag and eating pilfered bar peanuts counts as wining and dining.

I said, "Well someone should tell her. That child will get a bellyache if she eats all that!"

She didn't respond right away, but then said quietly, "Bless her little heart. She don't get stuff like that at home. She just don't know what to do." I saw that while tears stood in her eyes, her face was hard with anger.

"Why haven't I seen her before?" I asked.

"She got taken away for a long time." said Sister-In-Law tightly.

I asked why, not really sure I wanted to know, but unable to help myself.

"Her Mama couldn't be bothered to feed her."

Right then and there, any vestige of holiday spirit I'd been able to manufacture 900 miles away from home, in 80 degree weather, evaporated. Like Sister-In-Law, I was angry.

Because forgetting to feed a child is not like forgetting to feed a dog (or, a Garfieldesque feline who can obviously wait until the next meal). An infant will wail, a toddler will beg, a child will plead. My non-verbal Diminutive One used to indicate hunger by rubbing his tummy and saying "MMMMMMM-mmmm." Ignoring him would have meant ignoring every single instinct I posessed as a mother.

I began to think of how much of my mothering involves food. There is breakfast for one, then the other. An inexhaustable supply of snacks for both. Lunch on weekends. Dinner. When I'm not preparing it, I'm shopping for it. When I'm not shopping for it, I'm planning to shop for it. When we're busy, or on the go, I'm constantly worried about when and what I will feed my children. How will I squeeze in a square meal before they rush off to the ballpark? How will I manage a hot breakfast in a hotel room? Where will we stop that I can get something wholesome and not entirely saturated in fat and preservatives? Maybe I should pack a cooler, or at least throw a few granola bars and bananas in the car. It's never ending.

The point is, feeding a hungry child is as basic and instinctual as breathing. Not feeding a hungry child is a conscious choice. You can't "forget" unless you make a concerted effort to do so.

Now, I love my boys. And I've managed to get over my disappointment at not having girls and appreciate all the ways in which I am extremely lucky to have them. Being a mother of boys is who I am and I like it.

But I still experience an occasional pang of regret at not having a girl.

To see such a beautiful little girl and know that her mother does not cherish her for the the precious gift that she is made my guts twist into tight knots of impotent rage. Watching her scoop spoonful after spoonful of innocent pleasure into her sweet little mouth, knowing it might be her last for some time....well, it broke my heart into a million pieces.

I didn't really know what to do with that. So I pushed it away. And eventually I was distracted by all the merry making. When I looked again, she was gone, but two desserts remained. She had eaten only one. For some reason, that made me heartbroken all over again.

There's really no point to my story, I suppose. If there has to be one, then I guess it would be that no matter how horrible most of us think we are at parenting, as long as our children have food in their bellies and tons of love and approval...the rest is pretty incidental.

Hug your children. Cherish them. Never take them for granted.

And let them have sweet treats now and then. Life is nothing without a little sweetness and we'll never appreciate it the way we did when we were kids.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Of Parables and Protocol

You know what? This gift giving thing is getting out of control.

This year, I have one child in Elementary School and one in Middle School. Frankly, I was relieved that I wouldn't have to buy gifts for two teachers this year. I assumed (wrongly, wrongly) that giving teacher gifts was eschewed in Middle School because of the number of teachers involved. My son has 5 regular teachers (teachers whom he will have all year) and one "Connections" teacher. Connections are elective classes such as Language, Home Economics, Industrial Arts, and P.E. (Seriously? P.E. is elective??)that change quarterly.

Six teachers. And today I was clued in to the fact that all the other parents are indeed, buying gifts for all six teachers. Our first year in public Elementary school, I learned that most parents were buying gifts for the regular classroom teacher, the classroom Para-pro, and all the specials teachers; specials being Art, Music, Computer and P.E.

So let's take stock for a moment....If I follow the currently accepted and widely followed teacher gift giving protocol, I have to buy 12 gifts.

But that's not all. Most parents also buy gifts for the Principal and Vice-Principal.

The Lunch Ladies.

The bus driver.

Now we're up to 16 gifts.

Sixteen gifts, people. And you know you can't get away with any dollar store crap either. It's got to be quality merchandise. Home made goods are acceptable, but they must be creatively and attractively packaged, preferably with hand stamped wrapping made from 100% post consumer materials.

I can't deal with that kind of pressure.

And it doesn't stop there. Ohhhhhh no. There's the Mailman, the UPS guy, the Orkin Man, the Therapist.

It only dawned on me today that I should have bought a gift for Dr. A. I was waiting for Diminutive One to finish up his session when another patient arrived with a gaily wrapped package. I was stunned for two reasons. First, because I thought Dr. A was Jewish. Second, because apparently, the $175/hr I pay her isn't adequate to express my gratitude.

Now isn't that I don't appreciate what these people do. But the fact is, they are not providing me or my children with services out of the goodness of their collective hearts. They are being PAID a fair and competetive WAGE. I pay all these people directly or indirectly for their efforts. If I didn't pay them, would they continue to provide the service?

I don't mean to sound callous, but we are a one income family and frankly, we can't afford to give everyone who crosses our path a Christmas gift. And I don't really want to, to be quite honest. Call me Scrooge, call me a cheapskate, call me a three decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce ...but I give gifts to those I love, and those who have touched my life in some meaningful way. I would die without the Orkin guy, but I'm not really moved to tears when he shows up at my door with his little apparatus. In other words, I am not compelled to give him a gift for doing his job.

I do think that people who give of themselves deserve to be recognized in some way. I think selflessness and generosity deserve to be rewarded.

But is giving a random bauble hastily grabbed off of a store shelf really the best way to accomplish that?

What ever happened to the old adage, "It's the thought that counts"? And who decided that we should only do it at certain commercially sanctioned and relentlessly promoted holidays?

Is it any wonder that people are growing more and more disenchanted with holidays? It's become nothing but a growing list of obligations to be checked off. How many of us breathe a sigh of relief when it's over? How many of us really savor it anymore? How many of us truly LOVE it the way we did when we were children and Christmas was a light in our hearts instead of a burden on our souls?

I am not giving 16 gifts. I asked my oldest son to choose one teacher who had really made a difference to him this year and we will give a special something to him/her. The rest will get a card to express our thanks and wishes for a joyous holiday season.

If it's really the thought that counts, that will be enough. If its not, then I guess I can look forward to being branded a subversive skinflint.

But I won't be guilted into a disingenuous gesture and I will no longer aid the retail industry in turning Christmas into an empty capitalist sham.

Who's with me?

(Footnote: The bus driver does actually get an extra special something in his stocking for only kicking Diminutive One off the bus once this year and for letting him come back after two days.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Me, Myself and I

Today I went on a blind date. With a girl. A girl blogger.

In some ways, I think meeting other women is even more angst inspiring than meeting men ever was. I always knew how to dress (slutty), how to act (ditto) and what to talk about (them) to win men over. Men were really pretty easy, because generally speaking, they are simple creatures at heart and because their expectations tend to be less lofty than those of women.

Men expect nothing, and are pleasantly surprised when things go well. Women expect everything, and end up pissed off and bitter when things go wrong.

If you're not butt ugly and and demonstrate even mild interest in them, Men are usually happy to continue spending time with you, even if you have nothing in common with one another.

But women...well, we all know that women are just...really...insane complicated.

So though I was really looking forward to meeting this person, I was also weirdly nervous about it.

Here's what transpired in my bathroom this morning:

Me: What are we going to wear? Everything makes us look fat.

Myself: We are fat.

I: We could wear the black pants. They still fit, and black is slimming.

Myself: Veto.

I: What's wrong with the black pants?

Myself: They're too dressy.

Me: SO?

Myself: It will look like we're trying too hard.

Me: We are trying too hard. We're a woman. It's what we do.

Myself: Riiiiight. But we don't need to look desperate.

I: What about the boot cut jeans with heels and a casual sweater?

Myself: I'm cool with that.

Me: Yep. The jeans are hip. The sweater covers our jelly belly.

I: Okay, jeans and sweater it is.

Myself: Right, but...we're not wearing that lipstick are we?

Me: What's wrong with this lipstick? We like it.

Myself: looks kind of...inflate-a-date.

Me: WHAT? It does not.

I: It kinda does.

Myself: I'm just sayin..women generally despise other women who look like whores.

Me: Wearing bold lipstick does not make us look like a whore. It's daring. And it signifies self confidence.

Myself: Right. It signifies that we're a self-confident whore.

I: I wouldn't go that far. It is kind of Courtney Love with "Hole" though.

Me: Fine, what about "Earthen Suede"? It's very sedate.

Myself: Works for me.

I: Me too.

Me: Ummmm, maybe we should consider driving Husband's car.

Myself: Why?

Me: Well, the van is so..."suburban soccer Mom who defines herself by her children's accomplishments".

I: And that would be

Me: Our children play baseball.

I: You don't say.

Myself: Yeah, and whatever happened to not apologizing for our choices?

Me: We are so not apologizing for our choices.

Myself: Oh, right, my mistake. We're denying them altogether. Way to go Betty Friedan.

I: It does seem kind of disingenuous.

Me: FINE. We'll take the van.

Myself: Fine.

I: Fine.

Me: Okay. Are we ready?

Myself: I think so.

I: Ready as we'll ever be.

Me: Wait...

Myself: What now?

Me: We're all agreed that we steer clear of politics, gay marriage and abortion, right?

I: Right.


Me: Right???

Myself(sighing): FINE.

Me: And let's watch the F bomb, okay?

I: Right. And blasphemy.

Myself: Blasphemy?

Me: Like, we shouldn't say "Jesus Christ".

Myself: Oh...right. What about "Sonuvabitch"?

Me: It's right up there with the F word.

Myself: Okay Pollyanna, can we go now?

Me: Yes. Let's go.

I: I just wish we had a sexy cell phone. This one is so...utilitarian.

Me, Myself: I.....

I: Alright, alright. But can we ask Husband for one for Christmas?

Myself: I thought we agreed we were asking for a Treadmill.

Me: Umm, no, we're asking for the leatherbound edition of "Persuasion" by Jane Austen.

Myself: Okay, we never agreed to that....

So, umm, turned out that I needn't have worried. The woman that I met was incredibly warm, and friendly, and genuine. She used the F word twice. Not that I was counting. Really. I was so at ease with ther that I might have said "Jesus Christ" a time or two.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Why are we so concerned about what other women will think of us? I think it's because so many of us are lonely. We may have lots of friends and acquaintances, but we want so badly to connect with other women in a meaningful way that we're willing to sacrifice ourselves on a superficial level to accomplish that.

But the truth is, *I* don't really care what color lipstick someone wears, or how much they weigh, or how they style their hair. I don't even care if they have different ideals, as long as I believe they are trying to live their best life. And I think most of us are...trying to live our best life.

So was really and truly a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for making time, even though your little ones weren't feeling well. And I hope we can do it again sometime soon. You don't even have to wear lipstick. :?)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Taking the Bully by the Horns

My parents, as I'm sure most parents do, have certain moments from their children's lives that have stayed with them and become part of their repertoire of fondly and frequently told anecdotes. Those memories are especially meaningful because those moments were particularly painful, joyous or amusing. My Mom usually recalls my first word (cracker, I think), my first crush (Jamie Tookshure), or my first bra (I didn't need it).

My Dad likes to tell about the time I almost shot the neighbor kid in the balls.

I realize now that the young man in question was really just a terribly unhappy and mixed-up little kid, due to his unstable and volatile home life. When he and his sister began to cramp their mother's whoring boozehound freewheeling lifestyle, she would simply park them with her father until she felt able to cope with the demands of motherhood again. What they endured during those brief periods of maternal conscientiousness is anybody's guess. Her father, an exceedingly mild-mannered and soft spoken older gentleman, lived on our block.

Back then, I didn't know that's why he was the way he was. I just knew he was a big fat bully. But a really cute one. So I vacillated wildly between hating his ever loving guts, and wishing with all my heart that I was his girlfriend.

The year that I was twelve, my Mom stopped doing hair in a salon and became an instructor at the local Beauty College. The job meant better pay and regular hours which was good, but we had to be at home alone for a little while each afternoon. My middle sister and I let ourselves in after school, while my youngest sister stayed with a sitter.

For the most part, it was fine. I had been babysitting for several years already, so I was not afraid of being left alone. My sister was only two years younger than me, so she didn't require any real care. Sure...we drank pickle juice straight from the jar and rifled through my Dad's underwear drawer for naughty magazines, but we were pretty responsible when it came to really important stuff.

His Mom got pregnant that year, and perhaps not surprisingly, his taunting took on a more sinister quality. Up to that point, he had merely infuriated me. But then I began to be a little afraid of him. And though I didn't always understand the things he was saying to me, I knew they were dirty words, describing ugly things. We steered clear of him when we could and sometimes sheltered his younger sister from the misogynistic behavior.

There came a day of reckoning of course. Doesn't there always?

One day, he pushed me too far. He made me really believe all the horrible and confusing things he was saying. Though I didn't know exactly what "screwing" was, but I knew I didn't want to do it, and I sure didn't want to do it with him. Not anymore.

He had pursued us all the way home from school, jeering, teasing, leering. How does a twelve year old learn to leer for God's sake? The answer, which is all too obvious now that I am an adult, makes me feel sick. We made it home safely, but he was undeterred by the locked door. He pounded on it, he shouted at the windows. He would not give up. After a while, I got good and pissed. My fear turned to resolve.

I got a .45 pistol from the closet where my father stored all his guns and hunting supplies, which, of course, we had been instructed never to touch. I had no qualms about doing this, and no fear of reprisal. This was an emergency. It was self defense, plain and simple.

I knew it wasn't loaded, but he didn't.

I took it downstairs, opened the door, pointed it at his crotch and said,

"Get the FUCK away from here or I will shoot your balls off."

He went.

And I was wrong about not getting in trouble.

My parents were, understandably, appalled by what I had done. I was duly punished. But there was something underneath their stern admonishments. It was pride. And the fact that my Dad still tells this story with a funny little grin on his face reminds me of how I felt when I found out that my son had beaten the snot out of a neighbor kid who had taken a swing at him with a baseball bat. Curiously, shamefully, undeniably...proud.

Proud because of the violence inherent to such an act? No, certainly not. The violence itself really is horrifying on a personal level. To know that one human being is capable of doing another physical harm is a reality that most of us rarely if ever, encounter. So when it does enter our staid, civilized lives, the horror is jarring because of its tangibility. It becomes a real thing. Not just a news story or an episode of COPS, not just a chapter in a book.

But like my father was with me, I was proud that my son stood up for himself. Proud that he had enough self-respect not to take any shit. Proud that he kicked ass and took names. And aside from pride, there was a strange sense of relief. The burden of his well-being was lifted just a little, knowing my passive child could and would defend himself.'re wondering where all this is leading no doubt. Well, the lovely and talented Kristin of Motherhood Uncensored has started a radioblogging/talk show/roundtable discussion kind of thing, that's really pretty cool. Her topic this evening is bullying.

As the mother of boys, it's a topic that is very relevant, especially since my boys are both at an age where this kind of thing is rearing its ugly head more and more.

Recently, Diminutive One was being taunted by a classmate to the point of feigning stomachaches, headaches, earaches, an obscure heel disease, strange scapula ailments...

When I finally got to the bottom of it all and contacted his teacher about the matter, her response was swift, and inordinately, I thought, emphatic. The taunters would be dealt with immediately as outlined by the Bullying protocol established by the school system. There would be no tolerance. Strict punishment would be meted out.

It was just a little teasing.

Now, I'm glad that steps have been taken to put a stop to bullying. I really am. I know that scores of adults still carry scars from the bullying they endured as kids. I know kids have hurt others and themselves to put an end to the torment. I know people have died as a result of bullying. And that is something we should not accept, enable, or tolerate.

But I wonder, if, in all of our zeal to eradicate the problem, we haven't robbed our kids of the ability and the opportunity to stand up for themelves. Because it's only by doing so that kids realize they have the strength and the courage and the freedom to not be a victim. There can be no empowerment without victory. There can be no victory with no battle fought.

So where do we draw the line in the sand between intervention, and interference? And once drawn, how do we assess whether we are toeing the line, straddling the line, or leaping clear to the other side of the line?

It's hard to say, really. Like so many other parenting issues, there are many shades of gray to consider and examine.

Husband and I have to chosen to let our children know that violence for violence' sake is unacceptable. Putting their hands on another person in anger is unacceptable. Causing another person harm is not how strong, healthy people ease their own pain. If they are threatened, they should inform a parent, teacher, or law enforcement officer.


If they are being assaulted, they have every right to defend themselves to the extent necessary to prevent personal injury.

And to remember that bullies (adults and children alike) are usually just scared, unhappy, lonely people who don't like themselves very much. And that maybe, just maybe, an offer of friendship might be more effectual than a fat lip.

Or, one could threaten to shoot their balls off. I can personally attest to the efficacy of such a measure.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Shoe In

Husband works for a small, but very successful dot com. The founding fathers started the company in a basement office. The three of them built the business into a surprisingly lucrative enterprise and several years later sold it at a HUGE profit. All three now enjoy a lifestyle few of us can ever hope to experience.

One of them has stayed on as CEO, and since it is a small, intimate group of people, we are uniquely privvy to just how fantastically wealthy he is. He often hosts barbecues at his home, he invites the guys to fish at his palace cabin in the North Georgia Mountains, and every year during the holidays, he treats the entire staff to a lavish formal Christmas party at his own expense. It must cost him thousands.

During Husband's tenure there, we have been to Ray's on the River, Boi Na Braza Steakhouse, Emeril's, The Crowne Plaza , The Horseradish Grille and two other places I can't remember for the life of me.

I really look forward to these parties. As a Stay at Home Mom, I don't get many opportunities to dress up and rub elbows with the haute monde. I don't often get to converse with folks who have more on their mind than carpool and PTA. It's fun to shed my blue jeans and tennies to get dressed up and feel glamorous. It's fun to pretend that we are one of the Buckhead elite; the wealthy, the privileged. And it's an illusion that I can usually perpetrate pretty successfully, even if I have to pretend really hard to convince myself we are driving a Lexus instead of a Windstar. At least I don't have to worry about the Valet taking it out for a joyride.

Every year, I search for just the right dress. Since I am much smaller on the top than on the bottom, it can be a challenge. But it's one I enjoy, since it's the only time of the year that I have the luxury of spending as much as I want on an outfit. Well, as much as I want meaning, I leave enough in the checking account to pay the mortgage and feed the children until payday.

I'm pretty resourceful, and I can usually put together a stylish outfit including jewelry, handbag and shoes for very little money. After the first couple of years, I amassed enough rotating stock that I don't really need to buy shoes and handbags anymore. I have black, I have red, I have gold, so I can alternate accordingly. A couple years ago, my mother gave me a set of antique mourning jewelry made of real jet that belonged to my paternal grandmother. She had scads and scads of beautiful jewelry, some of it genuine, and some of it costume. But even the costume jewelry was high quality. The design of this set is one of such timeless elegance, that it compliments literally any outfit. I wear it quite often. And I have shawls and throws and shrugs aplenty.

This year I decided not to buy a new dress. Last year, after losing 50 lbs, I bought an outfit in a size I hadn't worn since before I got married. Unfortunately, I have not been very vigilant and some of those pesky pounds have stealthily deposited themselves back onto my hips and thighs. But I have vowed that they will not stay there, so I refuse to acknowledge their permanence by buying a larger size. I've unearthed one of the outfits I wore the first year, and I'll just hope nobody remembers it. Husband snickers at this. Though he never says a word about me buying a new outfit each year, he does wonder why it's necessary. He, and most of the men, wear the same suit year after year and simply buy a new tie. They don't understand that this is just not acceptable for the women.

So, anyway, I have not been shopping for an outfit. But it's some kind of cosmic rule I guess, that one finds all kinds of gorgeous things that fit beautifully when one is not frantically searching for such. Foolishly, I tried on several things yesterday after happening upon them while shopping for pajamas for my sister. But despite the fact that they complimented my pear shaped hourglass figure and did not cling, bind, or sag anywhere, I maintained my resolve. I put them back on the rack, telling myself that it wasn't worth the money, since I would be too small next year to wear it again.

After that, I wandered into the shoe store on impulse, which is really not like me. I have large, square, flintstone feet, so shoe shopping has never really held any magic for me. Most everything that suits my taste is too narrow to accomodate my extraordinarily wide feet and perfectly uniform length toes. And if, by some chance, they do happen to fit, it often appears to me as if an elephant has tried to don ballet slippers. I usually opt for shoes that show as little of my foot as possible. No strappy barely there evening sandals for me. SIGH.

I found a few pairs of pretty satin slingbacks, and some 40's inspired ankle strap numbers, all with appropriately closed toes. I tried them on and was quite pleased with the results, when two other pairs caught my eye. They were the antithesis of any shoe I would ever deem suitable for my porcine hooves, but I couldn't resist. This pair might seem tacky at first glance, but upon my foot, they looked magical. I slipped one on, and miraculously, it fit. Even more miraculously, my foot appeared...dainty. I felt like Cinderella must have when her foot slid effortlessly into the glass slipper. Encouraged, I tried on the other pair.

Like the first pair, they fit amazingly well and made my foot look...not gargantuan. But they were even more beautiful, more magical, more sparkly, more feminine and just....perfect.

I realized then that these shoes would be going home with me. I could argue, bargain, threaten and cajole, but I would not be able to talk myself out of buying this gorgeous, frivilous, wholly feminine pair of shoes. Not only do they fit and flatter, but the rhinstone detail matches the buttons on the white satin blouse I will be wearing. How could I say no?

I brought them home and managed to look shamefaced in front of Husband. Believe it or not, I've never spent $50 on a pair of shoes, and certainly not for one that will be worn once.

Husband only smirked. Like the drawer full of sparkly eye shadows and lipsticks in every imagineable color, he realizes the shoes were beyond my power to resist. He knows that had he ventured into a Comp USA, Radio Shack or Sharper Image, he would be hard pressed to refuse the siren call of doo dads, gew gaws and gadgetry. We all have our own form of Spiritual Lipstick, right?

It looks like I may have to add shoes to mine.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Just One of the Guys

This morning, while taking the older boys to school, I hit a squirrel. I saw him dart out in front of me, but there was nothing I could do to avoid him because there was traffic in the oncoming lane and traffic behind me. I simply braced for impact and then hit him squarely with my front tire. I felt his tiny little body crunch beneath my wheels. I was sickened and sad. Poor little creature. He was just trying to make his way in a world where man is greedily encroaching on his habitat, forcing him into an ever shrinking and precarious living environment.

I've never hit anything before, except an unfortunate turtle, whom I thought to be a rock until the last moment, at which point, there was nothing I could do except to say "Oh shit, a turtle". I think he might have survived, since I only clipped his shell, and when I looked in the rear view mirrow, he was careening accross the road, upside down, but seemingly intact.

I have no such illusion about the squirrel.

My oldest son is extremely sensitive. He hates to see anyone or anything in pain and he doesn't deal well with death. In addition, he has a deep and abiding fondess for animals of any kind. He is a born nurturer and they bring out his protective and tender nature.

My father -in-law was a butcher by trade for most of his life, but 5 or 6 years ago, he started his own game processing business in the garage. Yes, it's exactly what you think it is, and yes, it's an exceedingly grisly undertaking. He does all manner of wild game, and occasionally, some road kill, but most of what he processes is deer. Georgia has a ridiculously long deer season, so he turns a pretty decent profit.

My niece is used to it. Her father hunts, and he also assists my father-in-law with the business. He can skin a deer with a few deft strokes and hack it into manageable pieces with only a couple well placed thunks. He once wrestled a wild boar and killed it by stabbing it in the heart. I know what you're imagining, but he's actually a very mild mannered, intelligent, and clean cut fella. Anyway... she has seen animal carcasses come and go in various stages of butchery, and various degrees of gruesomeness for years now. She has grown very blase about it all.

My children, however, are shocked and horrified by the entire enterprise. The first time that Pre-Pubescent One encountered a dead deer, strapped to the hood of an ancient automobile; tongue lolling, eyes glazed, and dripping blood from a fresh and steaming gash through which it's guts had been excised...he burst into tears. He was inconsolable for the remainder of the day, and regarded both my father-in-law and my brother-in-law with naked hostility for the duration of our stay. Since then, he has taken great care to stay well away from the garage when we visit during deer season.

You can understand then why I was concerned about how he might react to the fact that I had just made rodent pizza out of a cute and innocent woodland creature; one which is iconically benign and beloved.

Before I could glance back to gauge his reaction, I heard a loud guffaw from his friend and then...

"DUDE! That was AWESOME! Did you see his head pop off?"

To which Pre-Pubescent one responded enthusiastically,

"Yeah, Dude, his blood must've squirted about three feet!"

Looking in the rearview mirror, I could have sworn I saw a greenish tinge on his face. But he had passed whatever test he thought he had to pass, and so, in addition to the slightly verdant hue, he wore a look of satisfaction.

When I relayed the incident to Husband later that day, he nodded pensively. He never hunted, he never wanted to. And he understood why a 12 year old boy would feign ghoulish delight over the violent and bloody demise of that poor little squirrel. He understood that the male legacy of civilized violence is inescapable. And he understood that sometimes a guy has to sacrifice himself to the ideals that hold him captive with hackneyed definitions of manhood.

Sometimes, I'm really glad I'm a girl.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm Just Sayin'

I am a chronic and lifelong insomniac. Last night I think I slept for a total of 16 minutes. When that happens, I am rendered completely incapable of abstract thought, not to mention the ability to string words together coherently. In addition, I seem to be hitting a little bit of a dry spell, creatively speakin. Thus, my offering today is really just banal fluff. These are snippets of thought, information, and experience that I fully intended to turn into a real blog entry, but just can't seem to, either because they aren't substantive enough, or because I can't seem to manufacture enough cohesiveness to constitute an actual piece. So, with that in mind....

One should not eat an entire jar of bleu cheese stuffed olives right before bed. Especially not if one has GERD. Pro: Low fat, low carb, low cal. Con: Heartburn from hell. Heeeeere's your sign, B.A.

Who actually uses the purple and blue Christmas bows? I have scads of them left over from the 27 multi-color bags I must buy every year to get enough of the red, green and gold. Why don't I just throw them away????? I am tired of being exploited by the bow people. I demand single color bags!!

The bottom of our Christmas tree has been stripped bare of candy canes by my eight month old kitten who seems to believe that the tree was erected for his personal enjoyment. I am led to wonder if I inadvertantly purchased some kind of salmon flavored gourmet variety of cane.

I must have said candy canes all facing the same direction. Husband the the boys think this is completely irrational of me. They think it is great fun to turn one the wrong way and see how long it takes me to notice.

Reheated seafood Alfredo smells like feet.

I adore OPI polish. My favorite is "Don't Be Koi With Me" which is an outrageously bright coral. I bought two new shades called "Redipus Oedipus" and "Don't Socratease Me" just because I liked the names.

Yes, I am an unabashed product whore.

I am currently addicted to vanilla scents. I have every imagineable household and personal care product under the sun in vanilla.

Ebay used to be a fabulous way to get a good deal. Now, not so much. What is up with sellers charging $15 to ship a tablecloth? And who pays that? And why are people willing to spend twice the retail value for a piece of used clothing?

I used to be sad about not having a girl and being able to fix her hair. My boys have decided to grow their hair long, and now I must style Pre-Pubescent one's hair each morning. What a pain in the rear end.

What is the appeal of backing into a parking space? Is it really that much of a time saver?

I think I got a traffic ticket yesterday. I am a very conscientious driver and it pisses me off. I couldn't see because of sun glaring directly in my face. I honestly thought the traffic cop was motioning me to go. She wasn't. By the time I realized she wasn't, I was in the middle of the road. What did she expect me to do?? Sit there and block traffic? I had to complete my turn. She whipped out her little pad. I suspect that the mailman will be bringing me something special in a week or two. I plan to take PPO and his friend to court with me as witnesses. I think it will be a valuable learning experience.

Pre-Pubescent One is not enthusiastic about that.

Diminutive One has joined Chess club. Some kid told him only dorks play Chess. I told him that only dumb kids make fun of smart kids. I feel a little bad about that. But not bad enough to take it back.

Each morning, I drive PPO and his friends to school an hour early to play intramurals. I let them plug in their iPods and listen to music of their choosing. I let them crank it up really loud. They think this is unbelievably cool of me. Sometimes, it's ridiculously easy to score points with them.

Yesterday, while driving Diminutive One to his weekly appointment, we had two close calls on the interstate and witnessed several others. Instead of the spewing profanities as I did to prior to having children, I now opt to cast aspersions upon the intelligence of the offending driver. This prompted Diminutive One to remark earnestly, "Geez Mom! You must be the only smart driver in the whole city!" Why yes, yes I am. And thank you for noticing.

A dear friend of mine who happens to be a Lesbian recently said to me after a disappointing dating experience, "Why do I like women? I don't even like women." There are women I encounter daily who cause me to closely identify with that sentiment.

V.C. Andrews is a horrible, horrible writer. My MIL gave me one pf her latest books, and out of desperation, I read it. I feel dirty.

I recently got my first pervy Google search on my statcounter. "I had sex with my Mom." Ew. Leave it to me go get something like that, rather than the standard pervy stuff like "anal sex lovers". I feel dirty.

I just watched the video of Jessica Simpson's flub at the Kennedy Center Honors. That jerking thing she does while she's singing reminds of Elaine Bennis dancing.

Dolly Parton looks like the joker, poor thing. I really liked her back in the day.

So there you go. I hope you enjoyed it. I think I'm going to go take a nap.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Of Girls and Gifts

I have no daughters, as many of you know, but to my delight, my husband's sister gave birth to a girl child a mere seven months after my oldest son was born. Coincidentally, not only did my sister in law conceive only weeks after we announced our pregnancy, but also wed only weeks after we did. But that's another rant story for another day.

My niece is at a distinct disadvantage living where she does. Because although growing up in a small town does have its amenities, certain antiquated ideals and attitudes persist. Unfortunately, feminism has not really caught on in the rural South. And though there is certainly no shortage of strong, intelligent, resourceful females, they are not really able to demonstrate their strength and intellect to make a point or achieve an objective. Instead, they must rely on coquettry and bequilement, both of which they have raised to an artform.

This means that they have honed their feminine wiles to perfection and exploit them to the fullest advantage. Needless to say, there is a great deal of time and attention spent on issues that while superficial, are assuredly necessary within the peculiar sociological constructs of the small Southern town.

Those being hair, nails, clothing, rumormongering, queen beeing and oneupwomanship. It's interesting to watch from a sociological and anthropoligical standpoint, but sort of horrifying from a humanitarian perspective.

Anyway...for years I have given my niece books for every birthday and Christmas. There are two reasons for that. First, because she is an only child living in a place where everybody knows everybody. Each year she has huge and lavish birthday parties with more guests than I had at my wedding because to disinclude someone is to invite social disaster and alienation.

She gets mountains of gifts. I would be hard pressed to find an article of clothing or a toy that someone else had not already thought of. But nobody thinks of books. Its the only gift I can get her that is truly unique. And it's the only gift that will bring her joy for years to come. Long after the dolls have lost their clothing and possibly their limbs, long after the clothing has worn out or gotten too small, long after the costume jewelry has lost its lustre...the stories will still have the power to transport a young girl to another place and time.

Secondly, because I worry about what is being done to my niece in terms of her identity and her self-image. There is no doubting that she is a beautiful young girl. She has lustrous golden blonde hair, large expressive blue eyes, and long coltish legs that she hates now, but will appreciate when she is older.

But she is smart, too.

But strangely, no mention was ever made of her academic achievements. I was invited to beauty pageants and dance recitals and cheerleading meets. Much was made of her title, and I was given many photos of her in her sash and crown. But nobody ever told me that she had made it into the gifted program at school. Nobody ever told me she was on the honor roll every single quarter. When I did find out, it was mentioned in passing, in a mumbled offhanded way, much like one would mention the weather, or a bunion, or a casserole.

So I gave her books hoping that maybe someday, if she ever grew to question who she was and what her purpose in life, or in that tiny little town...if she ever wondered what gifts she posessed besides a pretty face...maybe she would realize that somebody, somebody knew that underneath the highlights and the acrylic nails and the hair extension she was a smart girl, a strong girl, a creative and unique girl. And maybe she would read one of those books and understand that she could be MORE than the pretty face she has been praised for all these years.

And there was a third reason, I suppose. I gave her books to share with her all the wonder and magic that helped me through all those awful, awkward times when I didn't know who I was, or what I was; what I wanted to be or what I was supposed to be. I gave her those books so she could lose herself in the pure unadulterated joy of make-believe. How many afternoons did I spend as Laura Ingalls Wilder, or Francie Nolan, or Mary Lennox? Too many to count. Enough that I knew certain passages by heart and could take courage and comfort from my friends even when I couldn't physically open the book and lose myself in it's crisp, paper smelling pages. I gave her those books so she would never, ever be alone.

I always chose the books I gave her with care, mindful of her age, the issues she was surely facing, and the interests she was developing. It was fun. To be quite honest, I bought those books as much for myself as for her. I had so longed to share my literary loves with someone, and I would never have a daughter of my own. I was so excited to introduce her to Anne Shirley, and Nancy Drew and Meg Murry and Sara Crewe and Rebecca Rowena Randall and Velvet Brown and Margaret Simon would be such fun to talk to her about those girls, who were as real to me as my own sisters.

I couldn't wait.

But a couple of years ago, during one of the infrequent phone calls to his sister, Husband inquired what Niece would like for her birthday. "Uh-huh" I heard him say. "Sure." and then, "Okay, I'll tell her."

Husband looked at me with an expression I now know was a mixture of dread and pity. And then he said quietly, "Sister says Niece doesn't need any more books."

I was stunned. Hurt. Sad. And yes, angry.

There is, quite simply, NO SUCH THING as too many books. And it was hard for me to understand why a parent whose child has every conceivable material thing under the sun would reject an offer of books. I reminded myself that it's a different culture, and at the time, one that was still quite alien to me. Though I realized that she hadn't meant to be hurtful or ungrateful, it was still a big disappointment. But I had to let it go. And I have.

This year while browsing Amazon for gifts, I happened upon a set of books that I hadn't heard of before called "The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants." It sounded delightful and for a moment, I was tempted to buy it and give it to her anyway. But I resisted the urge with only a small pang of regret.

Because you see, I now have another niece. She is three. My Mother swears that by some cosmic accident, my sister has given birth to my child. She has my temperment, she shares my aversion to morning and my love of beauty products. She is "fussy" and "busy" and "bossy". She is a force to be reckoned with.

And I can't friggen wait until she can read.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Magic Revisited

When I was a child, Christmas was a magical time, as I suppose it is for most children. I don't know how my parents managed on such a meagre income, but year after year, that special something found it's way under the tree. The year I was thirteen I wanted a stereo so badly I thought I would die if I didn't get one. But I knew that it was impossible.

I had two sisters and my parents did their very best to be equitable when it came to gift giving. Since they certainly couldn't afford such extravagant gifts for all three of us, I resigned myself to the fact that a stereo was not in my immediate future. And yet, Christmas morning, there it was. When I opened the box, my surprise was so great that I actually felt faint. I shrieked with joy, and my sisters beside me shrieked as well. I can't even remember what they got that year, but I remember that we were absolutely astounded. I remember that I was so happy, I felt like my feet were barely touching the ground.

Even as children, we understood the reality of our financial situation. What we didn't understand was the power of their love, and how they wanted us, for just one day, to feel like everybody else. To this day I don't know how they did it. I'm sure there were things that they went without to make those Christmas miracles come true; things that they probably really needed.

Now, as a parent myself, I realize that nothing I need could give me half as much enjoyment as seeing my child's eyes light up on Christmas morning. And now I understand that my mother could live with a threadbare winter coat that was hopelessly out of fashion, and my father could live with driving a rusty, oil guzzling hunk of junk. They could deny themselves small luxuries and not even miss them much.

But what they couldn't live without, was the satisfaction of making their children happy. What they could not deny themselves, was the joy of making dreams come true for us.

But it was more than the material things they gave us. They made Christmas magical.

My mother made so many different kinds of cookies and confections that now, it makes me cringe just thinking about how much work it must have been. There was almond bark and marshmallow fudge, rolled cookies, cut out cookies, rum balls, delicate rosettes, divinity, and yes, even fruit cake. And she decorated our shabby little home with as much care as if she was decking the halls of the Vanderbilt mansion.

My dad, though less involved with the aesthetics of Christmas, did his part to make it unforgettable. He watched all the specials with us; he knew all the words to every goofy song. I bet he could still sing "I'm Mister Heat Miser" word for word. And every Christmas Eve he sang "Birthday of a King" in church. People wept when my father sang that song, and I thought my heart would burst with pride. I think it was my dad who made sure that we understood that Christmas was about more than gifts and goodies.

For many years, there was never anything under the tree for either of them. They spent everything they had on us and there was nothing left over for one another. But like many children from low income families, we were industrious. And we rectified that just as soon as we could.

The year that I was ten, I used the proceeds from my paper route to buy them gifts. It was the first time I had my own money and I was so excited. I don't remember what I bought for my dad, but I bought my mother a knick knack that, upon reflection, was probably not very tasteful. But it was absolutely beautiful to my ten year old eyes, and since it was displayed in the nicest department store in our small town, I thought it very fine. It was a plastic skater, plated with cheap chrome, suspended from a fine silver thread onto a mirrored pond, where she twirled with the aid of a magnet. My mother still has that silly thing.

Years later, I learned that my mother really hated Christmas. She hated that they couldn't lavish us with gifts, she hated that they had to work such long hours at a time of year when everyone else was losing themselves in yuletide merriment. She hated that she couldn't buy us beautiful clothes for the Christmas Eve service, and she hated knowing that the other, more privileged kids would make us pay for that with whispered taunts and hurtful jibes. She hated the commercialism and the materialism.

But we never knew. To us, Christmas truly was the most wonderful time of the year.

As an adult, I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. Now I see it from my Mother's perspective and like her, the greed and the blatant commercialism rankles me. The other day I saw grown adults fighting over a video game system in Target. When I say "fighting", I mean that they were about to come to blows. Years ago I swore I would never be sucked into one of those toy crazes, no matter how bad my children might want a thing. I didn't buy Tickle Me Elmo, or Furbies, or Cabbage Patch Dolls, or any of the other ridiculous toy fads that turn seemingly sensible adults into snarling, slavering beasts every year. Watching those men argue over something so ridiculous underscored that resolve.

The crowds irritate me. The prices irritate me. The rudeness and the greed irritate me. The fact that turkey carcasses are scarcely cold before stores are hawking the latest greatest thing and blaring carols from their speakers irritates me. The idea of dragging all that crap down from the attic only to haul it back up there weeks later irritates me. and And I hate that here, there is simply no hope of a white Christmas. It's very hard for me to get into the Christmas spirit when there is no snow, and when it's quite likely the temperature will not fall below 60 degrees.

For a while, I let myself succumb to the humbug. I had no children, so it really didn't matter. I would go home for the week of Christmas and allow myself to be caught up in the Christmas Spirit just long enough to remember how it used to be, and recapture a little bit of that magic.

But when I had children, everything changed. I began to see Christmas through young eyes again. And I became determined that my children would have the kind of Christmases that I did. And that's when I really understood why my Mother did everything she did, despite her distaste. She did not want us to be touched by the ugliness....only remember the magic. And she succeeded.

Now that I am the magic maker, I find that each year the humbug fades a little more.

A couple years ago, when Pre-Pubescent One was about 7 and Diminutive One was about 4, our tree decorating had been somewhat less magical than I would have liked. The four of us had been bickering. Husband I had been impatient and snappish with one another and the kids who had been devilish and hard to manage in their excitement. It had not been a heartwarming yuletide scene. But when the lights went out, we sat in companionable silence looking at our twinkling tree. It was hopelessly smushed on one side and listed badly. It was loaded down with lumpy, misshapen homemade ornaments. It was already dry and brittle and would likely be dead within a week. But it twinkled brightly and somehow, looking at it made me feel better.

I realized that PPO had tears pouring down his cheeks. Alarmed, I asked "PPO, what's wrong??"

He sniffled, wiped his cheeks, and said, "I'm just so happy!" and then he started to cry in earnest. He was moved by that stupid, ugly little tree. He hadn't heard the bickering, he hadn't noticed the undercurrent of irritation. All he saw was Christmas magic there in our living room.

Since that day, I find myself loving more and hating less. When I am irritated, I try to remind myself that they are growing up, and soon they won't believe in or care about the magic much.

I have my children to thank for giving me back the Christmas Spirit. The least I can do is make a little magic while they are still young and innocent enough to appreciate it. For them, I can keep the humbug at bay for a few more years.

My shopping is almost done, (don't hate me, there were plenty of years I was out shopping on Christmas Eve) and I can concentrate on all the really good and fun and special stuff. We're going to get our tree tonight when Husband gets home, and tomorrow, I will put on Elvis Presley and Christmas with the Rat Pack and Rock the Night Away with my boys.

Now, if only there was some snow. Well, no matter. That's what airplanes are for, right?