Friday, July 30, 2010

It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It

Another year as summertime nanny to a couple of sweet little boys has come to a close. Because I'm not grown up enough to wait for praise and affirmation to come naturally, sometimes I might give a little gentle nudge, just to assure my fix. So I came right out and asked each of the boys if they'd miss me. (I know, pitiful. Shut up.)

The older boy said what I wanted to hear, but not exactly in the way I wanted to hear it. He said, "Yeah," but his tone was exactly what one might expect if I had asked him if he'd like to tag along on a trip to the fabric store.

The younger boy, though?

"I'm really gonna miss you," I prompted. "You think you might miss me, too?" His little forehead contorted slightly, his big brown eyes brimming with confusion.

"Well yeah," he said. But if you heard his tone, you might think I had just asked if he'd be disappointed if Santa skipped his house this year. While I usually cringe at the duh inflection, this time it was music.

I've always loved those boys equally. It's not right to have favorites. But if you asked me right now if one of them took up just a little more space in my heart, I'd probably answer, "Well yeah."


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Easy Rider

"How much longer?"

"Are we almost there?"

"This is taking for-ehhhhh-ver!"

I swear, if I heard one more complaint about how long the drive to Florida was taking, I was seriously going to choke somebody.

Except, the only one to choke was me.

From me, my six-year-old got his bright blue eyes and his ability to work a room. But thank God (or St. Christopher), it was from his father that he got his traveling genes. His father, who thinks it would be "fun" to get in the car and head west, just drive and drive and drive, until we reach the other side. Or I jump out and let him run me over, whichever comes first. The two of them were happy as clams each of the excruciatingly long hours we were trapped in our Subaru, completely oblivious to our state of painful captivity, our inescapable, interminable inability to move. Nary a peep from either of them. But I suffered each mile, not wasting precious mental energy keeping my misery to myself. As we rolled past a string of correctional facilities, I envied the inmates their freedom to stand up and stretch. Lucky bastards.

I've always been like this, counting down the mile markers, anxious to be there, wherever there may be. All that clichéd garbage about life being a journey? Bullshit. Just get me to my destination already.

But not my kid. He was amazing. Miraculous, really. Almost twelve hours strapped into his booster and the closest thing to a complaint I heard out of him was, "Do you mind pulling over a minute so I can poo?"

Even though my DNA had nothing to do with his incorrigible happiness, I'm still taking partial credit because I was the one who packed his "Little Bag of Tricks." While I have no idea how to keep myself from becoming suicidal on the road, here are a few ideas if you're traveling with kids.

Little Bag of Tricks (contents may vary)

  • several quiet activities, like magnet board games
  • a variety of art supplies, including markers, crayons, rubber stamps and ink pad, notepad, and even a dreaded coloring book (you can worry about fostering creativity later)
  • quart sized Ziploc bags filled with Matchbox cars, animals, guys
  • electronics — we went with his Leapster, a portable DVD player and an iPod*
  • movies on DVD, books on CD
  • a lapdesk
  • plenty of road-ready snacks, like trail mix and pistachios

The original plan was for me to be master of the bag and only toss back activities as needed, but then I remembered that I have feet and would need a place to stow them. So the bag ended up in his control, and other than a little more mess than I had envisioned, he did great managing on his own. In fact, next year we might let him sit up front and be the grown up while I curl up in a fetal position in the backseat and whine.

Don't think I can't see where all this is leading — his love of the open road, his eagerness to go anywhere and welcome whatever adventure comes next. But I'm not going to worry about it yet. I'll probably be long gone before it comes to this . . .

Especially if we take that road trip out west.

* That part about me getting credit for packing the bag of tricks? Truth be told, our wonderful, generous, genius friend Melanie gets all the credit. The iPod, which entertained him for about ten out of the twelve hours, was her contribution, complete with its Beyoncé and Lady Gaga packed playlist. It kept our boy rocking down the highway. Maybe I should have been listening in with him, instead of finding every boring NPR station in five states.

Thanks, Melanie!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Catch .22

When you do 90% of your shopping at garage sales, it tends to make you a bit naïve about the real world of consumerism. I'm sure I'd be the worst failure ever in the history of The Price Is Right, what with my impossibly sheltered exposure to reality. A brand new Cadillac Escalade, Bob? I'll say $10,000!

Well turns out it's not just my idea of what things cost that's warped. Last night we went to Academy Sports to pick up a few necessities for our upcoming vacation: water shoes, sunglasses, swimsuits, that sort of thing. I strolled down the beach accessory aisle, contemplating the potential of SpongeBob boogie boards and Jumbo Castle Molding sets. At the end of the aisle, I took a right, and found myself suddenly in front of a display of items not on my list.

Other than that living-under-a-rock thing, I have no excuse for how shocked I was. I'm fully aware that the Second Amendment is alive and well in America, I just didn't realize it was subletting space next to the yoga mats and soccer balls at my local sporting goods store. I get it that hunting is a sport. I can even buy in to the idea that it's necessary and noble, although my husband will never see me naked again if he ever pulls into our driveway with a bloody deer splayed across his Subaru.

But handguns? PINK fucking handguns?! Really? REALLY?

Not one for playing it cool when completely over-reacting is an option, I grabbed my six-year-old by the arm and yanked him out of the aisle like it was on fire. They may as well have been selling freshly severed human heads. But then I couldn't help but wander back, over and over, while my husband kept my son a safe distance from the clearly hazardous unloaded weapons. Eventually I struck up a conversation with the man behind the counter, Max, who is probably writing about me in his blog right now, too. I needed to know why the pink. Why the intentional effort to make lethal weapons look cute. He told me what any normal woman would have instinctively known, "Women like to accessorize." Then he laughed and added, "And when the manly men come in and make fun of them, I just tell 'em, 'Well wouldn't you feel foolish if you had to tell somebody you got shot with a pink pistol?' "

Oh Max, I think feeling foolish would be low on his list of pressing concerns.

So then I asked about the ridiculously adorable Deringers on display. These fun-sized versions of the weapon that John Wilkes Booth carried into Ford's Theatre to do his part for the Confederacy are now, apparently, all the rage with ladies who lunch. According to Max, the infinitely concealable Deringer is the way to go, especially in the summertime, if you don't want your piece messing up your silhouette. Linen can be so unforgiving.

I had to ask Max, how many ordinary citizens are there walking around Arkansas with these things lurking amid their Kroger cards and Altoids? At first he said thousands, then shook his head and corrected himself, "No, tens of thousands." At which point another employee walked over and really blew my mind, "No, it's more like 300,000."

I'm not going to rage against the Second Amendment. I understand that people have the right to bear arms, and to protect their families. But I don't think our founding fathers could have envisioned The Real Housewives of Little Rock accessorizing their ensembles with pearlescent pink .22s. Just as toy guns should not be made to look real, real guns should not be made to look like toys.

The Children's Defense Fund offers this chilling statistic: In one year, more children and teens died from gunfire than from cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, and HIV/AIDS combined. If you must own a gun, at least have the sense to pick one that looks scary as hell. Then lock it in a box painted with zombies and tarantulas and bury the box in a pit full of pythons.

And don't invite my kid over.
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Olly Olly Oxen Free

Days like this don't come around every day in Arkansas. Well they do, but not until October. In July, the combination of cool temperatures, low humidity and intermittent breeze falls somewhere between a gift and a miracle. Which is why I did what I can only assume all good mothers did today: I locked my child out.


At first, it was a bit like a prison break in reverse, him and his pals searching for breaches in the security and sneaking back inside. At one particularly low point, I even caught them crawling through the doggie door. But I was undeterred. I ignored their protests, shooed them back out and wedged heavy furniture in front of all points of entry. I won't kid you, there were a few moments when I was in serious jeopardy of mutiny. But they're really too short to do much damage, so I persevered.

A little later, a neighbor girl noticed the signs of life on the lawn and came out to investigate. Her nanny conscientiously came over too, to see if maybe we were evacuating because of a fire or carbon monoxide leak. When the little girl decided to join the boys in the yard, I felt a tiny surge of success. Right up until I overheard her say, "My nanny said however long I stay outside, that's how long I get to play Wii when I go in." Of course she did.

I'm coming to the unnerving conclusion that children are losing their ability to play. It makes me wonder: Has Kick the Can kicked the bucket? Has Donkey Kong killed Pin the Tail on the Donkey? Has Hide and Seek gone into hiding? Or is it our children who are in hiding? When our kids are holed up on the couch, playing video games or watching TV, there is comfort in knowing that they're safe. Our neurotic fears of kidnappers and child molesters and 16-year-old drivers texting behind the wheel get to take a breather. But I don't believe kids are really any more at risk out in the world today than we were as kids. Since 1993, crime rates have actually been steadily tumbling. It's just that we've developed an insatiable hunger for coverage of the crimes that do occur. How can we help but imagine every horrific way our child could be harmed when television pumps an endless stream of images into our brains. And we refuse to look away.

There are dangers out in the world to be sure, but to my mind, the greater danger is in not sending them out. We may be protecting their bodies, but we're killing their souls. What seeds can a child plant in the fallow land of his living room? It is only beyond those four buffering walls where discoveries are made, where unique thoughts are cultivated and sown. Toy manufactures know this, and take names like Discovery Toys and Creative Playthings. But what discovery can be made when another human being has already done all the creating? Children need to explore the world with their own eyes, not experience it through a facsimile of someone else's perception. They need to feel the cold lake on their toes to know boundless possibility. They must hold the wriggling frog in their own hand to know the pulsing energy of life.

Rachel Carson never had children, but she understood nature well enough to know, "A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood." Parents stand with their hand powerfully poised before the dimmer switch. We can choose a low setting, or we can throw open the back door and send our children intrepidly into the big, bright, limitless world.

If we don't, who will design the video games for their children?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Come On In, The Water's Fine (limited time offer)

While I can't recommend giving birth in Arkansas in mid-August, there is a silver lining. (Or, if you want to get technical, a bright blue vinyl lining.) Every year, just in time for his birthday party, Big Box stores are tripping over each other trying to move swimming pools.

My thrifty husband had been keeping an eagle eye on the sales, watching the prices get whittled ever thinner as summer wore on. Just in time for the party, he found a price so good he bought two! (I am not making this up.)

Because we had been waiting out the price war, or perhaps because we are morons, we waited until the morning of the party to set up the pool. Come on, it says Easy Set right on the box, how hard could it be? Well, turns out, pretty freaking hard. We dutifully consulted the directions, right after we noticed that our pool looked more like something discarded on the floor of a truck stop men's room than a pool. There may have been one or two vague allusions to the benefits of a level surface. Something along the lines of YOUR POOL ABSOLUTELY MUST BE SET UP ON AN ABSOLUTELY, PERFECTLY LEVEL SURFACE OR IT ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT HOLD WATER AND SWIMMERS WILL BE AT RISK OF IMMINENT DEATH AND DISFIGUREMENT blah blah blah. So, funny thing, turns out the hill in our back yard may not have been ideal.

But the kids were troupers. Even if there were only 11 inches of water, all perilously hovering in a thin ridge along the back wall of the pool, it was wet and they were happy. As for the adults, we buy alcohol by the case, so no one seemed to notice. The minute we sobered up the next day, we dumped out what little water remained and dragged the soggy shell up under the deck to dry before neatly storing it away for winter.

Three weeks ago, when I decided to give the pool another go for this season, it came to my attention that neat storage is not our strong suit. The liner was dejectedly waiting, right where we abandoned it ten months ago, in a moist heap on a lawn chair. To its credit, it made the most of its downtime, cultivating close personal relationships with all manner of slimy lifeforms. It seemed almost a shame to break them up they'd grown so close, but after a few hours on my hands and knees, scrubbing with bleach in the Arkansas sun, the only slimy thing left in the yard was me. I found the most level surface we own, turned the hose on high, and let the cool water slowly rise around me.

For most people, this would be the happy ending. But as I mentioned above, I am a moron. You'd think several hours of intimate contact with slimy green microorganisms would have given me a clue, but it never occurred to me that my cute little Easy Set pool would require care. I thought I'd just fill 'er up and add kids, but the algae had other plans. Within days, the pool went from sparkling cool and clear to this . . . .

No, really.

We're not entirely sure how the squirrel bit it, but our money's on nut allergies.

The good news is, I've gotten so handy at scrubbing the pool with bleach that this time it only took an hour. To date, that brings us to about 25 hours hard labor and 9000 gallons of water for an hour and a half of fun.

Totally worth it.
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