Tag Archives: parents

Hold the Cheese:Burglar



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A cheese... burglar.

A cheese... burglar.

 

This is how very bizarre my life has become:

My house – as you might expect, since I run a web site for kids, have kids of my own, and perform music for kids – has become what I can only describe as an “Open House” for the neighborhood.

Open, as in all the  parents in the neighborhood must have had a secret meeting and decided: that girl is in her basement all day. What a perfect babysitter!

Two days ago, a kid that no one in our house even knows kept ringing the doorbell – which I ignored, since I was working, and thus, as my uppity grandmother would have said, was not “at home,” a phrase the ancient upper crust used to conveniently use to describe politely: “well, yes, I’m actually here, but get the hell off my property, because I want to be left alone.”

Getting no answer, he started to try to jimmy the lock.

Now I was, well, let’s see: I could say intrigued, or I could say pissed. Either way, I marched up the stairs, calling Tucker, my big black dog – scary, but a secret sissy. I’m not scary, but people don’t know that they ought to be. Kinda ironic, the pair of us.

I threw the door open wide, and put on my best scary Mom face, and apparently I don’t have a very good one, because the kid begged to use the bathroom. “Fine,” I relented. He was in there for an absurdly long time.

It’s no use. It’s Spring Break, and they keep coming and coming in droves. Tomorrow I think I may just throw an impromptu concert, just for the heck of it. Maybe they’ll all run away.

 

Our beloved.

Our beloved.

One little girl is straight from Pakistan – or Passkan, as she calls it. She melted my heart today, though – couldn’t turn her away. I’d given her Baba some fabric I’d had, and she’d turned it into the loveliest, rich red sari you could ever imagine.

 

Okay, so she stays.

Another kid who came today had a great story. “Guess what, Elizabeth? Somebody broke into our house and only stole cheese but he got caught because my dad beat him up.”

I raised an eyebrow.

But there it was, in black and white, in our local newspaper: M’Town homeowner subdues suspect in cheese theft.

Made it right onto page five, color photo of the eye-blackened cheeseburglar and everything. The man was arrested with five different kinds of cheese in his pockets.

I don’t think I have five different kinds of cheese in my house.

But I do think I have at least five different kinds of kids. And they all have the greatest stories.

Some of them are even true.

Want to read the newspaper story about the cheese thief? You can read it right here.

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Brainbone: Am I the monkey at the monolith?


picture-31I have a definite love-hate relationship with Facebook’s Brainbone. You know, the kind of love-hate relationship you have with someone who doesn’t even know you exist, like a random celebrity, a robot, or one of the bitchy popular girls from middle school.

You really WANT them to like you, for them to think you’re cool and smart, but on the other hand, you sort of want to swagger by and act like you don’t care, too.

Still, you can’t manage it. You attempt a swagger, but you end up stumbling over your bookbag as it falls off your shoulder when you try to fling your hair back, casually but ungracefully, incurring the laughter of the entire seventh grade class.

So that’s where love-hate gets you. Absolutely nowhere but your knee socks tangled in your bookbag straps, and your hair in your beet-red face.

Why doesn’t someone tell you out of the gate that you only get cool when you stop caring about being cool?

Oh. Wait. They do. Only it’s your stupid, retarded, dorky parents, so what the heck do THEY know? Especially when they put it this way:

If everyone else jumped off the Empire State Building, would you do it, too?

Which of course, in middle school, you absolutely would. No questions asked. If it were that, or being hideously embarrassed? Off the ledge you would sail, like a ground-bound dart.

That’s how Brainbone makes me feel.

It doesn’t help that growing up, my sisters and I each had labels plastered on us. Actual labels, practically, with “Hi, my name is” strips on them, only mine was: “The Smart One Who Plays Guitar Really Well.”

I have two sisters. Theirs read: “The Pretty One Who Sings Really Well” and “The Quiet Skinny One.”

This kept life fairly uncomplicated for my parents. Nice for them, but confusing for us, since all of us were fairly skinny, all of us were actually pretty, and the quiet one only SEEMED quiet because she was, for the most part, virtually ignored.

As far as musical talent “assignments” went, turns out the One Who Played Guitar could Also Sing Pretty Damn Well, Too, and the One Who Sang Rocked on Keyboards – and the Quiet One, to whom no one paid any Damn Attention To At All signed her own damn self up for piano lessons when she grew up and ALSO Rocked The House on the Good Old Piano, inspiring the mother with the label-maker to trade in said label maker for her OWN piano, with lessons to go with.

Ah, how much more comfortable life is without all that sticky label adhesive.

Yet another reason I get a frisson of horror whenever Facebook’s Brainbone application asks me if I want to show my Brainbone stats on Twitter, or my web site, or anywhere public at all.

Show my Brainbone stats? Are you kidding? Why not also show my weight? And record me Confessing my sins to my local parish priest, while I’m at it, as a global podcast?

(Presuming I ever actually WENT to Confession… “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been… er…. it’s been… well, Padre, I think it’s been since second grade – you know – when they MAKE you go, in order to get your First Holy Communion? I think THAT was the last time I made my Confession. Wait – wait – <<insert sound of me sailing like a cannon out of the booth>>)

Yeah, I’m about as likely to show my Brainbone stats as I am to show off my untidy living room to unexpected company. (Wait: I do that.) Okay – as I am to show off my untidy living room to my mother, unexpectedly.

Because here’s the thing: I never realized how deeply I internalized that whole “I’m the smart one” thing. Every time I get a Brainbone question wrong, I feel deeply rattled, as if I should know this, somehow. Why I think I should know which country the city of Timbuktu is in, I don’t know, but somehow, I do.

Why I feel smug when I guess right is another mystery. I know I only guessed randomly, but when Brainbone rewards me with an exuberant “That’s correct!” I still feel like: “Boo-yeah!” As if I really earned it, instead of throwing dice.

Because I’m stupid enough to still feel like “the Smart One.”

Even though according to my percentages (SEE, Brainbone? I’m GOOD at math!) I’m technically FAILING Brainbone.

And because of this, I relentlessly answer the “Day’s Question,” for the sole purpose of upping my percentage to AT LEAST a passing grade.

THEN – and ONLY THEN – would I dare display my stats.

Because then EVERYONE could see, that of course…

I’m the smart one.

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Call the Red Cross. Because you can’t get there on the Web.


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My oldest is taking the Red Cross Babysitting Course today — we signed up for it online, to save ten whole dollars, which believe me, we earned, since the Red Cross web site is a natural disaster in itself: unbelievably torturous to navigate. It’s as if they deliberately hide information in an online labyrinth, sending users click after click in a nearly endless search for the one small piece of information they seek.

Armed, even, with the course number of the babysitting course, once we stumbled on the “Take A Class” section, the course refused to manifest itself for registering.

My daughter and I, stymied, at last puzzled out that we could excavate the registration page by searching for the course by NOT using the course number as a parameter – or using ANY search parameters at all.

(Smart girl, that babysitter-to-be.)

The services they offer, of course, are as good as their web site is bad, so I have far higher hopes for the class itself. It’s a full-day gig, and my eldest, usually a late-morning weekend sleeper, was up and ready for it. She’s got an ulterior motive: a babysitter certified by the Red Cross is WAY more likely to be rolling in jobs and cash than your average 12-year-old.

Add to that a mom with a graphic design background, and a neighborhood to post flyers in, and my little entrepreneur has dollar signs in her eyes.

To her credit, though, she also sallied forth with a notebook, pen, and a willing spirit to soak up everything the class has to offer: particularly, I warned her, the part in the course description that says “How to Communicate with Parents.”

This, I told her, is one of the key breakdown points in a babysitter’s career.

As an enterprising 12-year-old myself, I recalled one disastrous episode where I managed to keep a panicky hold on three human toddlers for about eight solid hours, even managing to get them all to sleep. Their humanity was questionable, although they were unquestionably primates; their ability to hang from the ceiling and from any small outcropping on the wall or high dresser proved that.

The kids trashed the already-messy house, but remained somehow alive and relatively clean themselves by the end of the grueling day. When the mother — tall, blonde, and blithe — finally arrived home to relieve me — tiny, disheveled, and exhausted — she was insanely furious that I had not, somehow, also cleaned her house, as well as feeding, cleaning, and caring for her maniacal tots.

She refused to pay me my one dollar an hour fee.

This was before I developed my full-blown nerve, and while I was still under the constraints my parents had deeply instilled in me never to shout profanity at, or smack the bejesus out of, grownups. I was a polite, respectful kid. I felt hot tears in the back of my near-sighted eyes, and a large, even hotter lump in the back of my throat.

I simply fled.

Lucky for me, my mother was the same sort of mad grizzly bear that I am now. Furthermore, my mother had been counting on robbing me of my babysitting money, which augmented her fury. She marched over, breathed dragon fire on the blonde welcher, and returned triumphantly with my cash, which at least I got to look at before it ended up in my mother’s purse.

Thus I illustrated to my own daughter: make it clear up front that cleaning the children, not the house, is what you are being hired to do.

I am certain the Red Cross will have the perfect words for that concept.

Not only that, the Red Cross class includes infant care – something I myself learned on the job, way back when. It’s startling, really, how desperate some people are to get out of the house, that they’ll leave the very youngest infants with the very youngest pre-teens, including clueless ones such as myself. How could they be sure that I was as nervously watchful as I was? It took ages to figure out which end of the diaper went where.

I remember calling my mother, who was absolutely no help at all with those odd plastic tape things, since I, apparently, was a cloth diaper baby – oh, she just dropped them in a box and someone brought clean ones to the house. And – funny story, she used to stick me with pins… Okay, Mom, thanks anyway, gotta go, there’s weird green stuff coming out of this baby now…

The worst thing I ever did was eat my employers out of house and home once the kids were asleep. (Once, bored out of my mind, I ate an entire box of Wheat Thins out of someone’s pantry. Kindly, the woman told me next time to please simply tell her what I’d like to have around and she’d stock it for me. I wanted to sink through the floor.)

So I will be supremely thankful to the Red Cross for giving my daughter the kinds of heads-up on infant care that a mother simply can’t.

Although my daughter and I DID have a talk the other night that was both reassuring and profoundly disturbing at the same time.

“There are a lot of girls at my school who are trying to get their boyfriends to get them pregnant,” my (only) 12-year-old said.

Me: (putting on my stone face, in an only half-successful attempt to disguise my inner “OMG!” and resorting to “Old Faithful”) How do you feel about that?

Her: I think they’re idiots.

Me: (at last able to exhale.) Why’s that?

Her: Because they don’t realize that once they actually HAVE a baby, they’ve got to take care of it. Like getting up at 1 o’clock to feed it, you know?

Me: (unable to resist driving the point home) Like getting up at 1 o’clock to feed it. And then again at 2 o’clock, maybe. And then at 3, waking up to change the nastiest diaper you ever saw or smelled. Then, just as you fall back asleep at 3:45, the baby wakes up again hungry. Then at 6, it’s feeding time again. Every two hours, around the clock – for months, until you’re desperate for sleep, and you can’t believe you’re being tortured like this, and the baby hasn’t even smiled yet.

Her: (looking at me, and blinking impassively.) Yeah, that’s sort of what I meant.

Me: (catching my breath) I’m not really a baby person.

Her: I get that. Don’t worry, Mom. I’m in no rush.

Me: Okay, good. Okay, then.

Her: My friend says she’s not going to have sex until she gets married.

Me: (unable to exhale again.) Yeah?

Her: My friend is an idiot.

Me: (exhaling tentatively.) Well, you know you can always talk to me. You don’t want to get pregnant before you’re ready, and you certainly don’t want to die. So talk to me, okay?

Her: (grinning.) I will. You’re fun to watch.

This is definitely a kid who can be trusted. After all, I ruthlessly use her to watch our youngest all the time, and when she’s on the job, I never worry for a second. That’s saying a lot. 

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I’m no valedictorian, but…


Add to Technorati Favoritesgraduate celebratingI practically fell asleep at both my high school and college graduations, not to mention the endless graduations I was forced to attend during my stint as a PR/web diva while employed at a local community college.

Why these institutions relentlessly opt for the most boring speakers, year after year, spouting the same, clichéd advice, I will never in my life figure out.

Do speakers honestly think they’ve hit on something original and fun when they approach the podium with Dr. Suess’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go?” For the love of all that’s holy – the book itself isn’t even that good. It just has Suess’s name on it, so the speaker thinks it’s got an automatic seal of “Aren’t I fun? Won’t this be the best speech EVER?”

Do speakers at roasting-hot graduations, facing crowds of hungover, soaking-wet individuals who are impatient to get back to drinking again, diplomas in hand, think that anyone – even the proud, ignorant parents – think anyone is really listening to a word they say? Especially if they say anything past three minutes or so?

Why these institutions  relentlessly opt for the  most boring speakers, year after year, spouting  the same, clichéd advice, I will never in my life figure out.I think they do. I think there’s something about a microphone that dangerously brings out the absolute worst in all of us. Get someone behind a mike – someone who most people see a few yards ahead, casually turn on their heels, hoping to avoid a “Hey, howya doing? Have you heard the latest about ME?” – and some people go simply MAD with the attention.

Now, they think to themselves, I get to say all the things that have been gathering in my heart for years. And I have all the time, under this blistering sun, to say it to a captive audience, clad in long, dark, hot, heat-gathering robes. And hats. Don’t forget hats. Which also keep the heat in.

I was once at a graduation where one professor with an axe to grind went on for over a half an hour, listing everything he thought was wrong with the world. Administrators wandered helplessly in the background, along with security, wondering if, in fact, they were going to need an actual vaudeville hook to remove him from the dais.

Not that anyone is ever likely to invite me to give a graduation speech, but here’s the one I’d give, in the event I were asked:

Very cool, folks. You graduated. Time for the touchdown dance. Guess what? Now that you will never be attending another mixer, no one will ever ask you again what your major is. No one will ever care. They only care that you graduated. Which you did. So yay, you. A lot of people don’t.

Now that you have, though, here’s what happens next.

You will not remember any of your Spanish, French, or whatever language you took. The quadratic equation? You actually WON’T ever need it; you were right – the unit prices in ShopRite are printed right there on the shelves when you’re trying to figure out which is cheaper, the big jar of peanut butter or the two little jars. That’s daily math for you. I liked math in college, but I’ve never needed the advanced calculus I took to live my life, and I’ve had more different jobs than Stevie Nicks has costume changes at a concert.

You will barely remember, in fact, much of what you learned. I recommend at some point in the future, actually, that you pick up a book called An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones and William Wilson.

Not to imply that you haven’t received a perfectly good and thorough education here at this fine institution – I’m just warning you. Real life – as in work, rent, bills, someday kids – has a way of driving from your ballooning brain things like philosophy, history, literary criticism, and all the things that have seemed so very important in the past few years.

This book? It’s a fabulous, one or two paragraph reference to catch you up at cocktail party time, so you don’t end up sounding like a picket-fence polishing, lawn-mowing, brain-dead, “I-gave-up” suburbanite.

I don’t know.You will hear, over and over, people asking you: what will you do now? I hereby give you permission to say: I don’t know. If you DO know, that’s awesome. Go for it. If you are all set for the next step – like medical or law school, and you put in a few years and hate it – I give you permission to quit and try something else. One of the happiest guys I know was a successful lawyer for years, then quit in his forties to become a broke high school English teacher.

You don’t have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life NOW. Try a bunch of things. It’s allowed. Don’t let anyone pressure you into the family business, or into one of the official professions. If you majored in finance, but your dream job is rodeo clown, go for it. The only person who actually lives your life is you.

The only opinion that really matters is yours.

You have an education now. That’s awesome. Now you’re off to the business off getting yourself some wisdom and judgment. That comes with experience. You can have a happy life if you follow your own path. Do whatever makes you happy, and the money will follow, trust me. You may have a few lean years, but if you stick it out, everything will be cool.

Believe in yourself, even if nobody else does. My aunt used to say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. And being happy is a lot better life than being miserable. Seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many people are so bent on pleasing other people that they forget that – for instance, pleasing the people who just paid for their education.

Still – the people that paid for their education aren’t going to be living that life of yours, are they?

So get out there. Keep your ears open. Your mouth shut. Don’t think you’re done. This is just the beginning of your education. What you really learned in college is how to learn. So get out into the world and start really learning. And don’t ever stop; that’s when you get old.

Now? The fun part starts. Now? It’s just pass/fail. The trick? There is no fail until you give up. So just don’t ever give up, especially on yourself.

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Bees, babies, and independent thinkers.


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Child in bee costume and big fat smile Well THIS kid seems okay, at least. Seems to be happy, right? That, ladies and gentlemen, is your paycheck for parenting, and the odd thing is, you wouldn’t actually trade it for actual money.

Would you ever have guessed that in a zillion years? Not me, for sure. I’da said: “Nah, money might work for me.”

When you get handed a kid after you do the touchdown dance at the long, sweaty end of labor, your brain is buzzing with many things. You may, for instance, still be under the delusion that your future will be full of soft-focus, slow-motion perfection.

That your kid, for instance, might actually OBEY you when you ask that kid to do something, like: “Please pick your underwear up off the dining room floor,” or “Please don’t leave that pudding cup upside down on the coffee table,” or even: “Please get me the remote, since I’m bleeding from the ears and eyeballs right now, but Law & Order is on?”

(But I said PLEASE…)

The selective hearing my own parents yammered on about is stunningly true. You can literally speak directly into their eardrums, using the cardboard inside of a paper towel roll for amplification, and if you are saying something they don’t want to hear, or if they are watching “Drake and Josh,” or “iCarly,” they SIMPLY CANNOT HEAR YOU. They don’t even have to go “LA LA LA LA LA…” like men sometimes have to when you ask them to take out the garbage. (Or put a new bag in.)

Kids will also disappear. Look everywhere, you can’t find them. Yikes. Where have they gone?

Pick up the phone, to call the police? BOOM. There they are, so close to you that you start feeling that creepy invasion-of-personal-space feeling, because now YOU ARE ON THE PHONE. “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.”

It’s a sure-fire trick. Try it.

What else, what else?

OH: the questions. Prepare yourself as much as you wish. It matters not. I have a stack of very dusty parenting books; they’re all completely useless. None of the questions I’ve actually been asked are in them.

Here’s one from just this week alone:

My 11-year-old, surfing the Net (for homework, or, quite possibly, her Gothic Pixie blog) opposite me, in my office, on the other laptop: Mom?

Me: Yes, darling? (I really call them “darling.” I think it’s nice, and besides, once upon a time I met a sad old copy editor in my old newspaper who lamented he was never anyone’s “darling.” I decided then and there I would always call any kids I might have “darling.”)

Daughter: Mom, my teacher Mrs. W. has bees in her classroom. I hate bees. They come right in and scare me. What should I do?

Me: (completely stymied) Um….

Daughter: What should I do, Mom? I’m afraid to talk to her, I’ll sound like a total baby.

Me: Umm… I have to pee.

Me: (returning, taking the stylus from my own computer’s graphic tablet and holding it up) Ok. How about you take this to school, tell Ms. W that it’s an epipen, and that you’re allergic to bees? That way, you can leave the classroom without seeming like a dork? In fact, they’ll all feel sorry for you and do something about the bees at the same time.

Daughter: (shocked, just SHOCKED, putting me in mind of the major in Casablanca when he discovered there was gambling in Rick’s joint) MOM! I can’t LIE!

Me; (hovering between annoyed and heartwarmed that my daughter is so honest.) Um…

Daughter: You are NO help AT ALL.

Me; Um…

I think back to that little bundle, the first day I got her handed to me.

Isn’t there some sort of qualifying test, I thought? A licensing exam? Are you REALLY leaving her with ME?

They really did. Okay… I thought.

The last argument I had with my daughter, she gave me this retort, to which I had no answer:

“That’s what you get, Mom, for raising independent thinkers.”

Me: Um…

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