Monday, June 30, 2008

To Market, to Market, to Buy a Fat-- uh-- Soybean

By Margy McCarthy

Darling daughter Shriek recently announced that we needed to take her to Olive Garden for dinner. She and two of her friends had decided to be vegetarians for a month.

It was to be The Last Supper, I guess; although I don’t recall Jesus and the Twelve scarfing down salad, breadsticks, and seafood alfredo in the upper room.

At least that’s not what we get at Communion.

My original response to this proclamation was mixed. It was a Friday, I was all in favor of dining out. It was the vegetarian part that threw me. Oh, really? Who’s planning (and financing) these menus? did battle with, Sounds like an excuse for a 31-day candy-fest to me! in my mind. But somewhere amid the loud protestations a quieter voice whispered, Why not? A few more leafy greens and some low-fat protein on the table wouldn’t do the rest of us any harm. Plus, the quiet voice nudged me with its pointy elbow, these hot flashes can use all the soy you can throw at them. After discussing Shriek’s plan with my husband Sparky, we decided to give it a try. We would support this new endeavor.

Frankly, feeding this child has never been easy. As an infant, she showed the alarming propensities of the future leader of a bulimic gang. She would nurse and nurse and nurse, then stealthily shoot any overflow into the lap of the person feeding her. No matter what I did to prevent it, I never saw it coming.

Drive-by puking.

She was so proud when we gave her a whole slice of pizza for the first time. Beaming, she picked it up in her tiny hands, bit off the end like a big girl, and set it back down on her plate. We applauded her. She applauded herself. She reached for the pizza again and burst into tears. “I can’t eat it now!” she sobbed, looking at her bitten slice, “It’s broken!”

That’s when I knew we were in for it.

This girl does not come from herbivorous stock. Sparky and I were both raised in the Midwest, where, by law, large hunks of cooked livestock must grace the table at every meal.

At least that was the law at my house.

My father’s branch of the family tree runs strong to the British; who, we all know, don’t call their yeomen “beefeaters” for nothing. In fact, my maiden name, “Gibson,” roughly translated from the Middle English, means, “Son of Gib who eats cows.” When traced back several generations into Ireland, one of Sparky’s immigrant ancestors has been quoted as saying, “Feckin’ potatoes again? Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, if that’s all we be havin’ I’ll be leavin’ here fer sure.”

As I write this, Shriek is a little over a week into her Meatless Month, and both of her friends have already suffered hamburger relapse. Yet, there were thick ribeyes on our table the other night (along with the artichokes and vegetable risotto with fontina) and she held fast. If I know my strong-willed daughter, she will make it through the month. The only carnivorous longing I’ve even heard her voice is a repeated mumble in her sleep-- It’s hard to make out exactly, but it sounds like she’s saying, “Panda Express Orange Chicken…Panda Express Orange Chicken…”

I guess that’s what we’ll be having for dinner about three weeks from now.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Learner's Permit by Barb McKone

Learner's Permit by Barb McKone

I have a chauffeur for the summer.  I had always assumed that when my son got his learner's permit, he'd jump at the chance to get behind the wheel.  I've been letting him drive on the gravel lane from our farm to the road to town for a year now, and he's always been eager.  But here, in the "big city," he seemed unsure as to whether or not he wanted to take that permit out for a spin.  Finally, I forced him to drive me on my errands one afternoon.  Next, I forced him to drive me to school one morning.  Now, every time I go to the driveway to run an errand he's sitting behind the wheel, waiting and willing.  

Three short years ago, I went through this process with my daughter.  She hated it.  I was hoping it would be a fun mom-daughter activity.  Ha.  She's a line-hugger.  She'd steer the car along the center line to avoid getting anywhere near the sidewalk, where there were always walkers and kids playing.  While I appreciated the safety efforts, we often got so close to oncoming traffic I could see the whites of the eyes of the drivers we'd just passed.  I would bark out warnings, which would only make my daughter swerve toward the sidewalk, scattering walkers like pin balls.  My nerves were shot.  Her confidence was shot. Our exchanges during and after these outings were not at all good for our relationship.  Nor was it good for neighborhood relations.  I think there are still several area drivers who see her little white Subaru and change their route.  So, we signed her up for driver's ed and thankfully, left the "ed" to someone else.  

My son runs the risk, at this point, of being over-confident.  He drives right down the center of the lane, and hasn't hit a curb on a turn yet.  His hands were clammy after the first drive to the grocery store, but he hasn't looked nervous since.  He's successfully taken on roadways and hazardous conditions that would make some seasoned drivers blanche.  He does wait a bit too long to brake for stop signs, but frankly, it's almost a relief.  I have to have something to talk about.   So, between stop signs, I've taken to teaching what I like to think of as "Driver's Theory," or, "What Those Potholes Really Mean To Me."  The following are a few examples of the life lessons I've been forcing on my son for the past three weeks.  God love him, he's still speaking to me.  Probably because I control the keys.  

First, there's the  Ten-Two Lesson.  Ten-two position, as I know you all know, is the suggested position for the hands while driving an automobile.  Even though my own hands have drifted to approximately six-one for years, I tell my son how important it is for his hands to remain gripped in ten-two.  I tell him the best  grip of the wheel is imperative for maximum control.  I believe this.  If only I could urge him to grip to the control of his life like he does the wheel of the car.  How handy the ten-two would be when deciding between going to a bar or studying for college exams, or when some scary delinquent kid offers him something he knows he should run from.  Steady now, he'd hear me shouting.  Get a grip.  Ten-two!

Another favorite, of course, is the Fast Lane Lesson.  We all know the fast lane is not supposed to be called the fast lane.  The folks who choose to drive in that lane are not really supposed to drive faster, they are supposed to be passing.  It's supposed to be called the passing lane.  But, since long before the term "road rage" had ever been coined, it's been called the fast lane.  My son loves to get into that fast lane.  Until yesterday, that is, when I gave him my "fast lane sermon."  It may seem that there are benefits to being in the fast lane, I told him, but I find that more often than not, the detriments outweigh them.  For one thing, it certainly ups one's chances of the head-on scenario.  Scary.  But also, you're scooting along in the fast lane, and suddenly you're stuck behind a car who's taking a left into a pizza parlor.  It's five o'clock, so you're significantly stuck, and because the traffic is bumper to bumper, you have no chance of darting back into the slow lane, the steady lane, the tortoise-to-the-fast-lane's-hare-lane. Slow and steady sometimes really does win the race.  There.  Another driving life lesson.

Out of the remaining options, including Tap, Don't Trample, Red Cars Are Ticket Magnets, Children, Balls and Parked Cars and, of course, the classic Yield Means Yield lessons, I chose to share last, but certainly not least, the Check Your Blind Spot lesson.  Every vehicle, like every person, has a blind spot.  My car has several areas from which I have poor visibility, including ridiculously large Dumbo-ear side mirrors and way too much metal where window ought to be.  For that reason, I spend a large portion of my drive time craning my neck around to see what potential dangers I might be missing.  My son drives by the mirror.  He thinks that what he can't see at first sight just shouldn't have to be seen.  I have friends and family like this.  They steer right into dating some new guy, for instance, with just a quick glance in the side mirror.  This is someone who should be setting off all kinds of bells and warning sirens.  Before you know it,  they'd wished they'd checked that blind spot.  They're wondering why they didn't see it coming.  But he was so nice, they say.   Right.  And just like we tell the officer giving the ticket, he came out of nowhere.  

My son doesn't get his license until February.  Poor kid.  But just think how smart he'll be by then!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Only Washboards I Want Near Me Are of the Abs Variety by Jenny Gardiner

[I wanted to be sure I had something to post this week but ran out of time to write something brand new, so I’m using something I wrote for my newspaper column this past winter but ended up not using. So sure, it’s 100• in the shade now, not 10• as stated below. But you get the drift…]

Damn that planned obsolescence. Curse that mentality of keep-the-economy-pumping-by-building-products-that-won't-last-so-that-poor-slobs-like-us-have-to-shell-out-big-bucks-when-least-expected-to-replace-lousy-appliances.

I’m feeling a bit domestically-compromised. As if I’ve been bounced back to an episode of Little House on the Prairie, a show I’ve never once longed to see, let alone live.

You see, over the weekend, not one but two appliances I’ve grown used to over the years decided to fail me. My weekend plans did not involve the death of appliances. It involved focusing on writing deadlines. Period. Instead I had a stovetop almost explode (thus rendering it unusable) and a dryer almost catch fire (thus rendering it unusable and leaving my middle daughter's pink laundry reeking of smoke).

“Okay,” I thought. “We’ll just call the repairman out here, it’ll be fine.”

Only the repairman doesn’t even answer the phone, let alone come out for emergency house-is-going-to-blow-up-if-I-use-my-cooktop service calls. So the weekend lapsed as I probed my memory to figure out what I could fix for meals that didn’t involve a burner and pots and pans. While I was trying to come up with creative ways to cook pasta, yet another appliance choked, gasped, and keeled over.

"The dryer broke," I told my son. I figured he'd grunt, recognize that meant "wear your jeans more than once before throwing them down the laundry chute" and that was that. Instead, my son, who's currently reading Thoreau's Walden and longing for the good old days in which human beings went without, said only, "Good."

I raise my eyebrows. "Huh?"

"Less energy drain. Better for the world."

Obviously he's not the one trying to fend through cobwebs in the basement to find places to drape a hundred soggy socks, a mountain of dripping bathtowels, and all that winter snow gear that might now dry by March.

Youngest daughter--who's happy to wash her clothes on a timely basis but hasn't quite gotten the idea of wrinkle-avoidance--kindly told me she'd done a load and spread all the clothes out to dry.

This morning I realized her clothes-scattering technique wasn't quite up to snuff. Shirts meant to hang were balled up on a drying rack, shoved in, on and around other wet things so that nothing would dry, but rather comfort one another in their spun-dry solace.

Did you ever notice that laundry looks worse when it's drip-dried? And if my family even thinks for one minute that I'll be pulling out that old relic, the iron, to compensate for that fresh-from-the-washer wrinkled mess, they're nuts. Once we were staying with a relative in Africa, and when his housekeeper washed my khakis and ironed the dirt stains into my brand new khakis I got a little bummed. Until it was explained to me that when they hang clothes out to dry, bugs lay larvae on them, and if they aren’t ironed, the larvae embed in your skin and eventually out pop creepy crawly things. From your skin! Now that would make me iron. But little else would.

Oh, and did I mention that we're in a town in which there is one--count 'em, ONE--person who can repair these products? A man who returns phone calls at the leisurely pace of a 90-year old one-legged retiree walking a golf course in 100° heat.

Note to able-bodied people with manual dexterity: desperate need for appliance repair people along the Eastern Seaboard. Yes, indeed. You’re more likely to get a quick appointment with a highly-trained medical specialist than you will one with someone who can fix a Maytag. I’m thinking it’s best to actually plan your appliance break-downs so you can have your appointment at the ready.

Now, I'm sorely tempted to get out my husband's toolbox and start trying to figure things out myself. If it didn't involve potential explosions and fire, in fact, I'd be doing that about now. Oh, that and the fact that I am incapable of following directions and would have failed a simple physics test had I ever taken the class, which I’ve avoided up to this point in my life. I still don't get how telephones work, so forget about stovetops and clothes dryers.

I guess I’d better just be glad I’ve got electricity in general, and stop whining about those major appliance failures. Never mind about that the trunk-load of groceries I bought, all for meals involving use of a stovetop. Never mind that I'm relegated to grilling outside. In 10° temperatures.

And I’ll try to pretend that I haven’t noticed how unevenly my oven heats and that my washing machine is making an ominous squeak.

I think I'll get back to those writing deadlines.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Time for a Mom Makeover

With the house full of kids home from college and/or on vacation for the summer, I didn't really think there'd be much time for self-improvement.  And, I must admit, I was sort of at a point in my life where I didn't think I needed much.  Sure, I could lose 20 pounds (well, perhaps "could" is the wrong word since the pounds seem quite firmly affixed), but I take pretty good care of myself and am about as evolved as I'm probably ever going to get.   

At least that's what I thought.

But I was oh, so wrong.  Because my kids, God love 'em, decided it must be time for a Mom Makeover.

I know what you're thinking:  "Lucky her.  Spas.  Make-up applications.  Wardrobe evaluations."

But no.  Not exactly.

My kids went more organic.

They simply took it upon themselves to make me over.  No gift certificates for facials.  No personal shopper for me.  No.  The kids must have called a meeting and made a list of my imperfections and flaws and divvied them up so they could each help me overcome each and every one of them.

Because it's apparently a miracle to them (or they see me as a freak of nature) that somehow I've made it to nearly the half-century mark without more of their input.

It's recently been pointed out to me that:

1.) I really should make a grocery list so I don't have to go to the store everyday and waste all that gas.  Yeah, I muttered to myself, and at the top of the list it should read "get rid of the kids."  Because I did make a list, I do make lists, but these dang kids eat 24/7.

2.) I should carry around a water bottle with me all day so I remain fully hydrated and then wouldn't need so much coffee.  Uh huh, I thought, I already gave up coffee for 9 stinkin' months when I was toting you around while you kicked my bladder and jabbed at my liver and hiccupped all night

There have also been discussions about:

~ the way I do laundry, specifically the dryer settings I was selecting. (That one got nipped in the bud when I simply handed over the wet clothes and explained I'd done all the kid laundry I was ever going to do, thank you very much.)

~what I'm choosing to eat for lunch. (Yes, I know a taffy apple loses some of its fruit value but all the other fruit had been consumed by the younger generation and I hadn't yet had a chance to make my daily grocery run.  For which I'd later be criticized.)

~that if I'd weeded the garden more completely last spring, it would be much easier to keep up with it now. (Ah, yes, but then what rotten job would I be able to give you for coming home late?)

I could go on, of course, but as I've also been told, my memory is NOT what it used to be.  So, hey, if any of you work up a hankering for a makeover, just holler.  They work for cheap.  Just be sure the fridge is stocked.  I'll send one or two of the little experts right on over, along with some earplugs for you.  I've discovered that my hearing is just about shot.  Now, I'm going to go pour another cup of coffee which will get me through until it's time to put my feet up and start sipping wine.  I'm just exhausted from all this self-improvement.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Does this Pizza Make Me Look Boring?

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

Last week, my husband was gone from Monday through Saturday for work, leaving me alone to spend quality time with younger son. And by "quality time," I mean "waving hello and good-bye and handing him money now and then."

So I mainly did a lot of cleaning, a lot of obsessing about writing things I have no control over, a lot of wrangling with the dentist and the insurance over who screwed up the payment for older son's wisdom teeth extraction (does anyone else think that insurance companies are the evilest of evil empires??), a lot of time talking to the cats. And the birds outside. And the ants who have awakened and decided to hold little ant versions of Olympic track and field events in my living room.

Every day of the week I prepared good, nutritious dinners in the faint hope that younger son would dine with me (HAH!), but on Friday night, the night before my husband was to come home, I gave up the fiction of that idea and I decided to splurge a little. Treat myself. Have a little Mom-party.

So I went to the grocery store, grabbed a cart, filled it with a few essentials and then headed to the frozen food section. (I know, I know - boy, do I know how to have fun on a Friday night!)

I pranced over to the frozen pizzas, and surveyed the array of choices before me. I concentrated on the smaller, single-serving pizzas...deep dish, cheese, four cheese, pepperoni, sausage...I was deep in thought, taking my time. When all of a sudden I noticed - I was not alone.

Indeed, I was merely one of a group of about five ladies. Middle-aged ladies. All looking at single serving sized frozen pizzas. On a Friday night.

I got a little nervous. I glanced down at my attire - I was wearing sweat pants and a T-shirt, because - well, frozen pizza! What else do you wear when you're contemplating frozen pizza?

The other ladies were wearing sweat pants and T-shirts.

I looked into their carts. They also had cartons of ice cream and - cat food.

I looked into my cart. I didn't have ice cream. But that's only because I was planning on making brownies when I got home. But I did have - cat food.

I felt my throat tighten up, strangling off a scream. A scream of terror, of recognition. That I had become what I have always feared. A middle-aged cat lady looking forward to a frozen pizza - single serving - on a Friday night.

I wanted to tell these ladies, "Look. I'm not one of you! I'm not what you think! My husband is coming home tomorrow and we have a big night planned!" (Although to tell the truth, we didn't; we were planning on watching the latest episode of "Battlestar Galactica" on our DVR).

I wanted to tell them, "Look. I know I look sad and pathetic and I'm wearing sweats and a T-shirt and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to making those brownies when I get home, along with watching the newest episode of "What Not to Wear" on TLC, but really, I'm much, much more interesting than this!"

But then I remembered I'm not. Not really. I remembered that just two minutes before, in the refrigerated section, I had carried on an absorbing conversation with myself about the difference between large curd and small curd cottage cheese and just what, exactly, is a curd anyway, and how do you get them different sizes?

I remembered that right before I left home, I had promised the cats I'd be back in a jiffy, just in case they were wondering.

I remembered that on Monday I had promised myself an exciting outing to Target to buy new underwear, just for a treat, not that I needed any but didn't I deserve a little fun in my life?

So I didn't say anything to the nice cat ladies who, after all, were minding their own business and seemed very sweet and content with who they were.

Because I guess, at some point, you embrace your inner cat lady and wear the label proud. But I'm not at that point. I'm still fighting what seems scarily inevitable. Which is why, on Saturday, when my husband came home, I ordered him to take a shower and get dressed and take me out to dinner. True, we were home by seven so we could watch "Battlestar Galactica" and go to bed by nine, but still. At least we tried.

But to tell the truth, I had almost as much fun on Friday night, eating my pizza and brownies and watching "What Not to Wear" with the cats.

And this makes me sad in a way I can't describe except maybe, I just did.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Standardized Parenting

By Margy McCarthy

For 19+ years now, Sparky and I have been aware that our primary objective as parents is to raise intelligent, productive, functional members of society and send them out into the world.

So far, so good. But that’s not to say that either one of our children is ready to own their independence yet. While all the normal indicators- physical, academic, and social- point to an eventual realization of this goal, there have been a few too many head-scratching moments of doubt where their common sense is concerned to release these creatures into the wild quite yet.

Someone would send them back.

This is not a risk we’re willing to take.

With this in mind, I have constructed a quick assessment to help parents everywhere determine the real-world readiness of their teens. Feel free to print a copy and administer this to your own offspring as often as necessary. The test should not be timed, and percentage required to pass can be adjusted as you see fit.

1. How many light bulbs should be burning in an unoccupied room?

A) All of the above
B) None of the above
C) All of the light bulbs- above and below
D) What do you mean, “burning?” I don’t see a fire.

2. If Tom drinks two cans of pop in fifteen minutes, and Mary drinks half each of four separate cans of pop over the course of a day; how many cans will Daddy find behind the TV the next time he searches for the remote?

A) 86
B) 59
C) 47
D) Why bother? I took the batteries from the remote for my Xbox controllers.

3. A refrigerator contains large bowls of the following leftovers: Penne pasta salad with albacore tuna and chopped vegetables; Homemade vegetable beef and barley soup; Chunked summer fruits with melon; Old-fashioned Nilla-wafer banana pudding.

After staring at the interior of said appliance with the door open, calculate the time differential (in nanoseconds) between that required to loudly announce: “There’s nothing to eat around here,” and the mayonnaise turning green.

Show your work.

4. Shards of pottery often provide historians with important clues about the rituals, traditions, and everyday lives of ancient peoples. 1000 years from now, which of the following would be the most logical area of our home for a successful archaeological dig?

A) Under your bed
B) Between the couch cushions
C) On the counter right next to the dishwasher
D) All of the above

5. If Jenny has a MySpace, and Johnny is on Facebook, which of the two will get an “A” tomorrow on the book report assigned three weeks ago?

A) None of the above
D) Oh, crap. BRB. I have to Google Spark Notes.

6. Using context clues, choose the best definition of the word “socks” in the following sentence:

“Can someone explain to me why there are seventeen socks in the knee-hole of the computer desk?” demanded Mom.

A) Insidious vermin that procreate with reckless abandon under furniture and in dark corners of the home.
B) Snowy white protective footwear worn inside shoes in matching sets of two.
C) Wrinkled household items, virtually invisible to teens, that get grayer every second.
D) Hmm. I think the answer is “C”-- No, wait! I’m supposed to find the definition of the word “socks,” not the word “Mom.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tiny Parents, Huge Parents

By Barb McKone

My parents are now officially the size of garden gnomes.  They are adorable that way, but if you put pointy little hats and shoes on them and asked them to stand very still among the hydrangeas, I swear, they could pass for landscape art. 

I've out-weighed my dad for some time now.  It's embarrassing.  It's frustrating, and a little disturbing.  He eats all day, most of it dessert, and gains nothing.  He's especially partial to any kind of cream pie with meringue, and he's tiny.  My mom gets littler every time I see her, probably because of chasing my sweet dad, who has Alzheimer's, around the neighborhood for the majority of her day. Her "good yellow suit," the one she's been wearing to church every Easter for as long as I remember, suddenly hangs from her bony little shoulders. 

My parents have always been giants.  Big shots in our little town.  They've always been a petite couple, but their personalities have always overshadowed their small stature.  They've always been in charge of things.  They are planners.  They get things done.  They are important.  They are loved.  They have been wonderful parents.  Now,  I watch as the people who were my giants get smaller and smaller.  Stranger still, as they shrink in size, we offspring are becoming their parents.

I believe that Erma would say:  Forget teenagers.  The toughest parenting we ever do is the parenting of our parents.

How did I not know this was coming?  Why didn't I duck?  I remember my mother driving my grandmother around, complaining (lovingly) about running her errands and listening to her litany of maladies and driving to her house in the middle of the night when she fell or a pipe burst.  Did I really not know that those days would be my days in the blink of an eye?  

In the past couple of years we "children" have gone from talking to doctors to scheduling caregivers to taking away driver's licenses (that was a tough, tough day) to getting loans and realtors and movers and watching strangers move into childhood homes.  It sucks, frankly.  I don't like it at all.  I want my mom to be the mom, but my poor mom is too busy thinking for two.  And I'm only writing this because I know that there is no possibility that my mom will ever read it.  I would never want to hurt her feelings, but I wouldn't be surprised if she thinks "internet" is a brand of aerosol hairspray.   She's still looking for the film in the digital camera we gave her last Christmas.

(Heavy sigh here)

So.  At the risk of being preachy, my point is this.  You will shrink.  You will age, it's inevitable. But in the meantime, take your folic acid.  Take your calcium.  Have that glass of wine, and that dessert (or two) if your clothes still fit.  Do the things (within reason) that your heart desires. Moisturize.  Enjoy your family.  Enjoy and use your healthy brains and bodies.  And most of all, enjoy your parents.  Love your parents.  They're the only ones you've got.  And even tiny, they're BIG.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Babysitter Lust by Jenny Gardiner

My teen daughter has become the object of lust. Grown women are clamoring for her; I’m starting to get a little edgy about it. You see, my daughter is now officially of babysitting age, and moms in my neighborhood are trying to sink their claws into her early and often and it’s making me feel quite proprietary.

I can still taste the babysitter lust I developed when my children were little. Finding a good sitter was akin to finding the secret to longevity. Once I got hold of one, there was no way to wrench the secret from my lips. To find an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible girl to help tend to your brood so that you could get needed respite from the demands of mommydom was crucial. But tell me, how many kids out there actually fulfill the terms of those qualifications? Believe me, not many.

At one point we were so desperate for sitters we went to the local Catholic Church to cherry pick from their teen youth group. We figured good Catholic girls (as opposed to priests) would make ideal sitters. One of the girls we landed from that attempt was Patti. Tall, sweet, kind, very involved with her church. Even traveled all the way to the big Pope-a-thon when Pope John Paul held a youth powwow in Colorado. We were impressed, even though she did say, “Wow, cool, dude” a bit much.

She was nice to our kids, she rinsed the dishes after they ate. Had the kids to bed on time. No disasters, no broken bones on her watch, nothing. And then she showed up one night for a babysitting job reeking of pot. And I don’t mean the kind you plant seeds in. Rather, the kind that comes with seeds.

Boy was I bummed. We’d had fun plans to meet friends for dinner; I hadn’t been out kid-free in ages. I assured myself that I was imagining things. After all, how could our goody-two-shoes Pope-visiting youth-group-attending babysitter be anything but on the up and up? But then my husband came downstairs from getting dressed and walked over to me asking, “What’s with the reefer smell in here?” This from same person whose sense of smell is so bad he’d probably not notice a rotting cadaver at his feet if he had to rely solely upon his olfactory system. Well, that was the end of Patti the Pothead. We showed her the door and stayed home that night.

Our next great sitter was Amanda. Cute as a button, senior in high school. Older, responsible. She’d be a great keeper of my kids on occasion, I reasoned.

She came one day to watch the kids so that I could run errands in peace. When I returned home I chatted a bit with her as she helped me unload my groceries. Turned out her dad was a Fed. FBI. Hated by the right wing militia movement for his perceived involvement in the Ruby Ridge showdown. Amanda and her siblings were actually under an FBI watch, I learned, as they’d had death threats made against them. That would the same Amanda with whom my childrens’ lives were entrusted. In my house with all the big windows so that psychopaths who wanted to kill her could take good aim. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough that afternoon. And later that night at dinner, our kids told us that she’d had a few male friends visit that afternoon and made the kids sit alone in their bedrooms. Yikes. And she seemed so nice!

One sitter my kids adored was Eliza. She was so young she played with the kids as if their peer. At nine years of age, I guess one would expect that. But she was an ideal little mother’s helper who played with the kids while I cleaned the house and such. And then I found out one day that Eliza’s drug-addicted 18-year old stepbrother had a court order against him and was forbidden from going with 100 feet of Eliza or her family. Well, I was none too comforted with that bit of bad news, and couldn’t see risking my kids’ welfare with her after that.

Another sitter we hired only once was the sister of my son’s friend. We figured she was a sure-thing. Till we came home and found out she’d hit my son, just as she would have hit her brother if he’d made her mad.

Then there was Maura. A fourth-string referral I found when desperately dialing for sitters one day in the hopes of going out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. I’d called someone who gave me the name of the most wanted sitter in the neighborhood. When I called her number, her mom, tired of fielding sitter calls, gave me the number of another sitter. Her mom gave me the number of another sitter, whose mom gave me the number of Maura. You’d think I would have wondered why she was still available when every other sitter had been scooped up.

Nevertheless, Maura seemed pretty nice. We came home after dinner to a clean house. The kids were safely tucked in bed. But as my eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights in the house I noticed something. My house wasn’t just clean. It was immaculate. Eerily so. Even the dog bowl had been scrubbed clean of that slimy dog-saliva build-up that most dog bowls get. Wow, I thought. She sure is a clean thing. Lucky me: sitter and maid all wrapped into one.

As my husband drove her home, I came across the note. Now, taken at face value, it was just a sweet note. But something about it was a bit stalker-ish to me. It read something to the affect of “Dear Jenny, I hope you had the best birthday dinner ever. You are the nicest person in the world, and I love your kids and your dog, and your family, and your house. I would love to babysit for you all of the time. Please call me ANYTIME and I’ll be sure to come whenever you need me. EVER.”
Well, that was right around the time that movie “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” was playing in theaters, and psycho-babysitters were a scary concept to me. Suffice it to say, we said “sayonara” to Maura.

I won’t bore you with the details of the lovely sitter who we subsequently found out was on several anti-psychotic drugs.
We eventually settled on a few sitters who were golden. Dream teens who played with our kids, read them stories, fixed them snacks and cleaned up after their meals. Picked up the toys when the kids had gone to bed. Essentially done more than I would have had I been home with the kids myself.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have disclosed their names to anyone unless my life depended on it. They were my hard-fought find, and I was damned if I would allow another mom access to my perfect sitter.

So now I sit, with an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible (if I may be so humble) daughter. And I understand the desperation in the voices of these moms calling at all hours to track her down. Willing to fudge the truth about their little darlings, claiming they’re sweet and cooperative when in truth they’re wild banshees willing to put my daughter in a pot of boiling oil if the spirit moves them.

Claiming they’ll be available all night while they’re out if there’s a problem, all the while leaving their cell phones securely nestled in the glove compartment of their cars, turned off. Promising they only need my child for a short while, yet not arriving home till hours after the 10:30 p.m. stipulation I’d placed on the babysitting deal. Or promising a “mother’s helper” job watching six kids for two hours, which actually was watching 14 kids for three hours. With no extra pay.

So now that I’m on the other side of the fence, my babysitter lust has turned to babysitter police. I’m out to protect my daughter from the vagaries of desperate moms, because now I realize that there are a lot of moms who will do practically anything to get hold of a good sitter.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lost in Translation

written by Judy Merrill Larsen

I admit, as my sons were growing up, I had some well-worn responses I'd use to avoid conflict. Especially when they were under the age of 10, saying, "We'll see" and "Let me think about it" rather than "No! Do I look like I've completely lost my friggin' mind?" could often buy me some time during which they'd forget about their ridiculous requests. Requests like:

~Next Halloween can I shave off all my hair and paint myself green?
~Can we have rabbits/lizards/goats/horseys/more puppies/turtles/an ant farm?
~Would it be okay if sometime I ate only bacon for an entire week? And green olives?
~Should I tell grandma that we had strawberry shortcake for dinner and you counted it as dairy and vegetable?

I mean, kids are kids, right? And they ask questions at the rate of about one per nanosecond. And, even though my sons are smart as whips (natch), it took them years to ascertain that I was saying "No, no and damn no!" So, I avoided lots of tantrums. They also knew that, if they kept repeating the request, always at louder volume each time (like that would change my mind), I'd be forced to say, "Look, if you insist on an answer right this minute, I'll have to say 'no'."

That showed them.

(And, yes, I know they had their own "euphemisms." I know that when #1 Son was older and muttered "whatever" when walking out of the room after I'd just explained why he couldn't/had to do something in detail to him, he didn't mean "whatever." I do believe he meant a particular two-word phrase that still can't be said on network television. But I digress.)

And then we evolved. As they got older and went out into the world, they got savvier. So I came up with new lines. They weren't so much asking for my permission but my approval. I started saying, "Well, see what you can work out" or "Come up with the details and we'll talk." And I'd turn and smile, knowing I was safe. Because of course I was still saying "No. Absolutely not. Do you think I've taken complete leave of my senses?" And I knew they'd never get a handle on all the nitty-gritty details so their pie-in-the-sky plans would never come to fruition.

Except they did.

Last fall, #1 Son asked if I'd mind if he and some buddies took two weeks and hiked the Appalachian Trail after graduation. "Get me the details," I said. He did. He even e-mailed me the itinerary. He'll be home sometime later this week.

Last month, #2 Son said he didn't really like the car we'd handed down to him and would it be okay of he traded it in and bought something else. "See what you can work out, " I said. He did. He's now the proud owner of a 1995 Jeep. He got a better trade-in value than I'd seen on Kelley's Blue Book.

They sure showed me.

(Oh, and on the off chance they see this, can I just point out that when they leave the house for the evening and I call after them, "Make good choices" that's not a euphemism. I mean it. Please, take me at my word.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Untapped Superpowers

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

The other day, I discovered I have yet another untapped superpower I wasn’t aware I possessed. (I have many of these, I’m sure. I’m positively convinced I have yet to reach the zenith of my powers as a writer, mother and shopper.)

You know how I have these kids who eat all my food, take all my money, and rarely speak to me? (Some people call them teenagers.) Well, the other day I picked one of them up from school.

Now, normally when I pick him up, I smile pleasantly, ask how his day went, did he have any plans after school, what did he want for dinner — you know, giving him my undivided attention. And normally he just sighs, rolls his eyes and grunts, telling me in a thousand different ways (through body language, not actual spoken language) how much he wishes he were anywhere else but in my presence.

But yesterday, I was on my cell phone. I was talking to a friend when I had to leave to pick him up, so I just kept on talking, and when he got in the car I merely nodded at him and went on talking to my friend. I talked all the way home, ignoring him all together.

When I hung up — after we got out of the car to go inside — he gave a great big, put-upon sigh. “Jeez, Mom. Finally. You know what you remind me of? You know those movies when the parent is so busy working and on the phone making deals and stuff that she ignores her kid but something happens at the end of the movie and she realizes she’s missed his entire childhood and vows to change her ways and be a good parent? You remind me of that.” (Yes, this son does have a flair for the dramatic.)

Now, you have to understand. 999% of the time I am all HIS; asking, watching, applauding, listening, laughing appreciatively at every little thing. And all that has gotten me, in the past, is exasperated eye-rolling and annoyed grunts.

I almost said this, but then I didn’t. All I did was shrug my shoulders, pretend not to care, and say, “Oh, well. I was busy.”

My son, he reacted with — well, with big sad orphan eyes. And also — by talking, nonstop. We went inside, he sat down with me at the kitchen table and told me every single thing that had happened to him at school. We got back in the car to go to his drum lessons and he never stopped chattering; a 180 degree turnaround from the normally frosty silence he maintains whenever stuck inside a vehicle with me.

And I just smiled. Reveling in my newfound superpower — Super Pretend Indifference.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

That's What I Get for Answering the Phone

By Margy McCarthy

We did it again.

My immunities to any begging, pleading, cajoling or big-eyed pouty faces on the part of my children are set very high. I am nearly impervious. For many years now, one of the foundations of my parenting has been “say ‘yes’ whenever possible,” but while that lends itself fairly easily to overnights and movies and other social events, it does not carry over into catering to every whim the television plants in their capitalistic little brains. Around here, you will be clothed well, fed well, and provided with any necessary tools toward an education; but the big-ticket items will appear on birthdays and Christmas and rarely in between. Unless you earn them yourself.

They know this. But it doesn’t keep them from trying.

So when the phone rang the other day while Shriek and her best friend Silly were at the mall looking for new swim suits, and the caller ID displayed Silly‘s number, I knew I was in for a wheedling.

I took a deep breath and put on my impervious voice. (You see how good I am? Shriek does not have her own cell phone. The way I see it, a twelve year old girl who lives with her parents at home and attends school in the same building her mother has taught in for a decade can use a darn land line.) “Hello?”

“Mommy?” Uh-huh. I was right. She called me ‘Mommy.’ This was primed and pumped premium wheedle-tone. “Mommy, Silly and I are over at PetSmart…”

“Hmm. That’s interesting. Do they have a good selection of swim suits there?”

“No- but there is this kitten…”

“Cats hate to swim.”

Familiar with Impervi-Mom, my daughter forged ahead. “Oh, Mommy, please listen! There is this kitten from the Humane Society and she is sooo cute and she sort of looks like Lucy and pleasepleaseplease can we adopt her?”


The pleases have a way of chipping at the outer layer of Impervi-crust. So does the Humane Society. We’re not talking about another upgrade on the iPod, here, after all. And we buried our girl-cat Lucy a few months ago… Maybe it’s time.

I sent Sparky to investigate. He is a sucker for tiny fuzzy critters with big eyes, so I figured he needed some practice holding his own against those two pre-teen girls.

He could also take a look at the kitten.

He did more than look.

New kitten pic #2

*sigh* She still needs a name. Any suggestions?

New kitten pic #3

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bad Cop Mom

Last weekend, at the after-after Senior Prom party, I was labeled the "Bad Cop Mom."  Shame on me for suggesting a certain sweet-faced reveler might re-think waving her near-empty bottle of Jack Daniels in the air while weaving past me. "I'm right here!" I said.  "And I'm a chaperone!"  Horrors!  The nerve!  I made her cry!  I wonder if she'd have burst into tears without a fifth of whisky sloshing around under her size one belt?  We'll never know.  I won't be asked to chaperone the after-after Prom party, ever again.  I won't ever again get to experience the huddled group of girls, mascara running in after-Prom drama, shooting me the stink-eye because I ruined their night, and quite possibly their lives, by daring to close off the door to the basement where the beer was stashed.  I won't be asked again because, that's right, I'm the "Bad Cop Mom."  Hey, I was called by the hostess, assigned a job, and did it.   I didn't mean to be mean.  I just chose to interpret the word "chaperone" in my own way.  The Right Way.  The "Bad Cop Mom" way.  Words I think Erma herself might have uttered in my after-after Prom situation: For God's sake, if you're going to drink it, at least have the decency to hide it.  

How can a moniker including the word "bad" feel so darned good?

This parenting of 18-year-olds is a tricky business.  A confusing business.  In Illinois, I was legal at 18.  Now, 18-year-olds can't drink legally, even though they're "adults."  They're supposed to act like adults.  We expect them to act like adults.  They can drive, get married, buy houses, choose our next President and fight for our country, but they can't go into a bar and order a Smirnoff Ice.  They're leaving for college, where they will almost certainly have a bleary night or two (hundred), but on their home turf, they might as well be 12.  Still, try as I have, I just can't turn a blind eye and bless their drinking in my house, or at the after-after Prom party.   I'm just not that cool.  I'd like to be, but dammit, I'm just not.  I admit it.  I'm a rule follower. Even if the rules are stupid.  

So, as my daughter starts her last summer before college, I batten down the hatches.  I'm ready. For two more months, I will check the window locks to the basement and sniff the Taco Bell cups I carry up on Sunday mornings to see if the Sprite was spiked, not that I could do a whole lot at that point if it was.  I will thank God that our daughter seems more sensible than most.  I will preach and worry and, for a moment, wish my offspring weren't quite so social.  I will try to sleep before the one a.m. curfew and end up lying awake instead, wondering if my 15-year-old son will carry on this torch of sleeplessness when he's 18.  And I will maintain the uncool, no-drinking-at-our-house policy that seems to ensure that kids only come here lately before they go somewhere else or when they want to "hang out and watch a movie."  We McKones do love a good movie night!  It all seems a little silly, knowing what September will hold, but for now, I wear my title as proudly as if it was flocked in black on a satin sash.  It's all I know how to be.  I am the "Bad Cop Mom."  

Thursday, June 12, 2008

You Can't Get Good Help Any More, Dammit! by Jenny Gardiner

Last week I did it. I finally did it. I fired my maid.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t a nice enough person; she was perfectly fine. But I was tired of her insubordination. Tired of her meager skill set, which was sorely lacking. Tired of trying to get her to do the things that needed to be done on a regular basis.

I mean, the dishes were stacked up to my eyeballs, but would she do them on her own? No.

My floors were littered with dog hair, tumbleweeds of fur blowing across the hardwoods each time the air conditioner switched on. But would she vacuum? No. Heaven forbid she actually mop, even if she did run the Hoover once every blue moon.

Oh, there were other problems, as well. Signs of mildew forming in the showers. Icky build-up in the toilets. Need I say more?
It’s not that I didn’t try with her. I gave her every chance that I could. Many a pep talk was presented in order to get the maid to get her act together. I warned her that her days were numbered. I told her that we weren’t pleased with her performance. I even offered plenty of incentives.

But nothing improved.

Oh, there were some good times, I can’t deny it. Like when she worked like a whirling dervish, cleaning in a trance-like frenzy late into the evening, before company was slated to arrive. The times when at least one room at a time shone, it was so clean. But these occasions became fewer and further between.

It just became obvious that I could no longer rely upon her dubious cleaning prowess, and it was then that I decided I’d be doing her a favor by letting her go.

Now that I’ve cut the cord, I feel a great sense of relief. I mean, really, it was for the best.

The only problem is this: now that I’ve fired myself from cleaning my house, who will do it for me?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Milestones among the Masses

written by Judy Larsen

As parents, we know there are moments, markers, that measure how the years are passing (whizzing past, actually). First day of school. First stitches. First lost tooth. They're still cute and little then. And it's individual. Personal. Mostly just you and your kid.

Then, the steps get bigger. Driver's License. High school graduation. These are rites of passage you knew were coming. My sons' elementary school actually sent each kindergartner home on the first day of school with a t-shirt that read "KHS class of 20--". But at the time, that year seemed so far away. Almost like a sci-fi movie. You know, where you think, gee, wonder if by then they'll have invented self-laundering clothes? Or some sort of portable music thingie way littler and pricier than a walkman. I'm sure when I was in kindergarten (LBJ was president then, folks!) my parents never imagined a day when disco music or betamax tape players would exist.

And even as the steps add up, as you check off one more item in your parenting handbook (Am I the only one who didn't get one with ALL the instructions or pages? Like what to do when your son gets his heart broken? Or how to get kids to rinse their dishes on a regular basis? Or that reminder to bring extra batteries for the camera to your son's graduation?), you successfully push away the day when they'll really move on, when you will sit in a stadium with about 35,000 people who are all friends and family of one of the graduates and watch your son march in wearing a black cap and gown with his fellow 7,864 graduates, all about to pick up a shiny college diploma with that name you so carefully parsed out 22 years earlier ("good God, no, we can't have that for a middle name. How will it sound when he graduates?" Because, of course, the only time middle names matter is at commencement ceremonies or if they ever turn into serial killers or assassinate someone famous.)

But that's what I did this past Sunday afternoon. I sat in "The Shoe" at The Ohio State University and, with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, watched my son walk in (he was somewhat easier to spot because the landscape architect classmate in line behind him had attached a large square of sod to the top of his cap!) and take his seat. And even though the day was hot (92 degrees), the crowd was well-behaved. We were basking in pride because we were all there because someone we loved was achieving a dream. Achieving a hard-earned piece of paper that had come with sweat and tears and sleepless nights and doubts; that had cost money and faith and hopes.

And when I watched him walk up to the table to pick it up, he turned and jumped up and waved at us (because through the miracle of cell phones he knew where we were sitting. He was also still right in front of sodhead boy. And, he was 16th from the end of his line. No, they did not say all 7,864 names. It just felt like they had). And I knew it had been an honor to be his mom for all these years. And to know that I'd raised him to be such a good man.

And then, as if he knew I needed it, he jogged over to the endzone and laid down and made a little snow angel (sans snow of course), and I laughed through my tears because the little dimple-faced boy who'd been my first teacher in Mom 101 was still alive and well and kicking. He might be hidden in a person a half-foot taller than me, and when we hug he practically rests his chin on my head, but if I look really hard, I can still see glimmers of the little boy he used to be and when that happens the years fade away and it doesn't seem that long ago.

(In the photo, he's standing alone in the row above of all the others, below the two graduates a few rows above him.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

One Good Thing

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

My oldest son’s first year of college is wrapping up. It’s been an eventful year for all of us. He got a little smarter, I got a lot poorer. And older, because nothing makes you feel ancient like having to tell people you have a child in college. Suddenly you ARE your parents, because now you’re the age they were when you started really paying attention to them and thinking of them as people. And so it is with your children.

It’s been a good year, too. A year in which we’ve seen him come into his own; high school was not the best time of his life. But he has really found his fit at this school, in this city. He loves Chicago, loves living in the city and being panhandled by strangers and once even had a homeless man offer to sell him his spit – the homeless man’s, not my son’s – and he’s just loved every minute of it.

(And he’s learned that if you give a homeless man a dollar and tell him to keep the spit, he might ignore you and give it to you anyway. Which is a good enough reason to take another route home from the subway next time.)

Anyway. Even as the year is ending, he’s planning for next fall in a big way, by deciding to move out of the dorm and into his own studio apartment. Alone. In the big city.

You’d think my mother’s heart would beat with fear, but you would be wrong. It does beat a little faster, though, and I’m almost ashamed to reveal the reason. But of course I will, because I’m a blogger and bloggers are constitutionally unable to keep things to themselves. So OK, I’ll cop to it:

I’m envious. Of my son. Because he’s living the life I should have lived, only I was too stupid/ignorant/scared – pick an adjective – to do it, when I was his age. And seeing him so confident, so smart, so unafraid is both amazing – because after all, I’m taking some of the credit for it! – and heartbreaking. Because he knows another – a much bigger – world than I was allowed to know at his age. And it makes me a little bitter.

I’m going to go ahead and shoulder the largest part of the blame by stating, up front, that I was a very persuadable person when I was eighteen, nineteen. I lived in a time, in a place, where you grew up, went to a sensible college in the middle of a cornfield, studied something practical, went back to the place where you grew up and married someone of like background, and settled into a cul-de-sac house that you could afford due to the sensible, reliable nature of your chosen career.

People, in those days – particularly people with parents like mine; good people, but afraid of the larger world, afraid of taking risks – did not just run off to the city. We - or at least, I - didn’t even know colleges existed in places like Chicago and New York. Why, college towns were Bloomington, Champaign, Lafayette, Terre Haute. You went there to study business or elementary education or something sensible.

You did not hightail it off to the big city to live in a garret and try to be an actress, as I so desperately desired at the time. Or so I was told by everyone who counted – i.e., the people who would be paying for all that.

I admit it, I was weak. And young, and impressionable, and the tiniest bit afraid. So I absorbed their fear, and bowed to it, and ended up washing out of cornfield college and trying to cobble together a Midwestern version of life in the big city, living in cheap apartments and immersing myself in what passed for an art scene, but you know, it wasn’t quite the same. The rats were just too small. And happy.

But then I got married and had children and while I may not have been the best mother, there is one thing I know I did right. And that is, I told my sons, over and over, that they should follow their dreams, their passions. I was able to show them a huge world of opportunity – big city opportunity, as well as cornfield opportunity – and constantly urged them to find out what they liked to do, then go off and study that. Wherever they want. However they want.

And that’s what my older son is doing. He loves to draw, so he’s studying animation. When I hear some of my relatives murmur that he might want to minor in business just as a safety net, I take him aside and tell him these relatives don’t know what they’re talking about. I will not let my son absorb their fear.

But I do ache, just a little, as I allow him to tour me around the neighborhood he’s picked out – complete with its own homeless man with spit to sell – and my breath catches in longing as he shows me the rats in the alley behind his apartment building, and I just wish, so much, that they could be my rats, too.

I never tell him this, of course. Well, OK, sometimes I do. But I try not to burden him with the dreams I never had the courage to reach for.

Instead, I cheer as he pursues his own dreams. I allow him not to worry about being sensible and safe because there’s time enough to worry about that.

But he won’t be eighteen, nineteen, and living, gloriously, in a ratty studio apartment just above a noisy El station ever again.

And he won’t ever have to look back and wish he had.

That’s one good thing I’ve done.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

What am I Doing in the Pits?

By Margy McCarthy

This morning I have tossed aside my ratty weekend writer clothes and donned a white lab coat in the name of science. I am filled with the incandescent glow of humanitarian zeal and several cups of dark roast coffee. I am strong; I am invincible; hear me roar. My mission? I dedicate myself today to improving the lives of mothers everywhere; to delve where no woman has gone before; to plumb the depths of the imponderable and to find at last, an irrefutable answer to a question that has plagued generations.

It has been several years since I formally taught science, so I needed a little refresher course. Here, as a reminder to myself and to my fellow researchers, are the steps of the scientific method:
1. Ask a Question
2. Do Background Research
3. Construct a Hypothesis
4. Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
5. Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
6. Communicate Your Results

Step 1:

The question to be addressed today, is one I'm sure we have all asked at some point in time:

Where is my kitchen table?

Step 2:

I have conducted my research by posing two simple questions to resident experts and recording their responses.
Question 1: Where is the kitchen table?
Question 2: When did you last see it?
I have conflicting results already. See Data I below.

Data I:
Resident Expert #1 - Shriek, female, age 12.
Response to Scientific Question 1: “In the kitchen.”
Question 2: “I saw it a minute ago when I got a doughnut.”
When further pressed- (“Are you sure you saw it?”) this expert’s reply was, “Mom, you’re being weird.”

Resident Expert #2 - Sparky, male, age 47.
Response to Scientific Question 1: “I have no idea. I was wondering that too.”
Question 2: “It’s been a few days. Wednesday, maybe? Thursday? Do you think we should file a report?”

Resident Expert #3 - Snooze, male, age 19.
Response to Scientific Question 1: “Huh? What?"

Scientist repeats Scientific Question 1: "It’s in the kitchen.”
Question #2: “I saw it last night.”
(Notation- Snooze was awakened at 9:48 a.m. for the sole purpose of research questioning. Grogginess may be a variable to consider in analyzing the validity of this expert’s response.)

As I study these results, I suspect that this is the point at which my esteemed predecessors in this field began to falter. Not only is there a lack of consistency , but the responses fall into distinctly opposing camps seemingly indistinguishable by gender, but accordant to the age of the respondent. See Data II.

Data II:
Number of Experts under the age of 21 who claim to have seen the table: 2
Number of Experts over the age of 21 who claim to have seen the table: 0

Number of Experts over the age of 21 who see only hot Cheetos bags, two empty pizza boxes, 6 pop cans, a bunch of dirty dishes, a stack of unused paper napkins, two pieces of junk mail, and a partially deconstructed Entenmann’s doughnut box in the place where the table used to be: 2

Number of Experts under the age of 21 who see only hot Cheetos bags, two empty pizza boxes, 6 pop cans, a bunch of dirty dishes, a stack of unused paper napkins, two pieces of junk mail, and a partially deconstructed Entenmann’s doughnut box in the place where the table used to be: 0

Step 3:

A hypothesis is an educated guess about how things work: "If [I do this], then [this] will happen." So- here is my hypothesis: “If I clear the debris from the surrounding area this morning I will rediscover my kitchen table and we will be able once again to sit together as a family and enjoy a home-cooked meal tonight.”

Sounds reasonable. I will take off my lab coat now and put on a pith helmet. I really probably need additional protective gear; I’ll have to be an archaeologist for a while. I don't know why I'm so nervous- this is, after all, only a 52” square of turn-of-the-century golden oak on four sturdy legs- not some mysterious black hole with super-magnetic properties…
Or is it? Any predictions on my hypothesis? Will my experiment prove true? Will I survive the test and break new scientific ground? Wish me luck- here I go…

* * *

One more thing-- and I swear to you I am not making this up. This is an actual picture taken just this morning of part of the area in question. Resident Expert Sparky refused to allow a picture of the whole “missing table” to be posted on the www, but the irony of this was too good to pass up: (Erma? Can you hear me? Do you SEE this?)

Cherry pits.

cherry pits

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Judy Merrill Larsen

"Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart."

I love this quote of Erma Bombeck's. And not only because I'm a big fan of dessert. It's a mind set. An approach. Now, I take care of the stuff that has to be taken care of. More or less. I'm not a flibbertigibbet (and, can I just say, that is such a great word). But time flies. Kids grow up (Eventually. I swear they do. Or will.). And we only have so much time. And when I get to the end, I don't want to think, "Well, I sure took care of all my responsibilities." I don't want my kids to say, "Wow, she always made sure the house was clean." (Um, no real risk of that. I'm just sayin'.) I want there to be stories and laughter and lots of memories.

So, as I go through my days--mothering my kids (2 sons, 2 stepdaughters, 1 stepson), writing my books, cooking, laughing with my husband, opening the wine, walking the dog--I'm a big one for striving to seize the moment. And I'll be chatting about that here--it'll be great to have you along for the conversation.

*  *  *  *  *

"I was too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security and too tired for an affair."

This about sums me up; I'm not sure just what Erma was referring to when she said this. I can only imagine! But for me, it precisely describes just where I am in my life right now as I'm trying to make a career as a writer. Like a lot of women, I put off figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up because I had kids. I threw myself into raising them and making sure they had bright shiny futures - and forgot all about myself.

So now the kids are growing up, almost out of the nest - one is, one has a year to go and both occasionally will hop back in for extended stays in which they'll expect me to be their devoted slave, once again - and I'm trying to move forward, yet finding myself, and much of my writing, still defined by the past. I think this is a struggle all mothers have, no matter how many years it's been since they've changed a diaper. I'll share my struggles here, and hopefully we'll all find a way to laugh at them together!

*  *  *  *  *

Looking through the prolific wisdom of our namesake for an introduction quote, I found I couldn’t be satisfied with choosing just one. This is- by the way- a character flaw that rears its head in my life in many, many ways. One cookie? Not likely. One cup of coffee in the morning? Not if I want to function. One pair of shoes? HA! You have got to be kidding. One glass of wine? *Pfft!*

There are fleeting moments when I question my sanity in deciding to have more than one child, although trying to imagine my life without both Snooze and Shriek quickly blankets any doubt- and I am proud to say I have managed to hold myself to one husband for very nearly a quarter century.

Now to my Erma quotes, and parenthetical commentary:

“My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.”

(Oh- Erma. I would fall to my knees and grovel before these words if I weren’t so worried about the cereal crumbs and dust bunnies that would adhere themselves to my kneecaps in the process. I like to believe I am too cerebral to be tidy, but the fact is, I’m usually cowering behind a pile of dirty laundry waving a white flag of surrender. The fact that the flag is not white- it is one of my son’s socks after all- is moot.)


“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

(I only hope one of those talents I was intended to use was NOT keeping my house immaculate.)

*  *  *  *  *

Jenny Gardiner

I am never one to make a decision without agonizing over it. So I'm going to be a complete renegade and choose two Bombeck quotes for my introduction. That's the beauty of blogs. Or clogs. Or whatever we're doing here with clunky shoes (and hopefully not clunky words). We can do things on the fly...

"Housework: If you do it right, it will kill you." --Erma Bombeck

Ah....No truer words were spoken. And because we all ultimately aspire to longevity, what say we all just stop trying to impress each other with clean houses and agree to continue in our slovenly ways? I won't tell if you won't.

I am a big believer in casting aside the have-to's every now and then (well, more often than not, actually) just to maintain one's sanity. All while trying to service all family members adequately, not gain too much weight (yeah, right!), avoid bouncing checks (er, um, yeah, right!), keep those graying roots at bay, remembering to shave legs occasionally, and every once in a blue moon, getting out of sweats and donning something less than slovenly, just because. With all of those important mandates, who's got time to clean? I figure until asthma kicks in with my gang, we'll go for the lowest common denominator when it comes to household sanitizing...

"If you can't make it better, you can laugh at it." --Erma Bombeck

There's a lot in life we can't fix. But there's a lot in life that laughter can ameliorate. I hope we'll be able to give you some good laughs when you stop by this blog/grog/clog/smog whatever it is. And if you don't find anything to laugh at, well, there's always housework!

*  *  *  *  *

Barb McKone
"Onion rings in the car cushions do not improve with time."

So true.  But, even shriveled beyond recognition, isn't it just a little comforting to know that they're there?  If my family were ever stranded on a lonely road in the middle of the night with no cell phones or AAA cards, we could easily survive for days with just the french fry and McNugget scraps we could find under and in-between our car seats.  There was a time that we would have even found the accompanying toys.

I was raised as a daughter of the Clean Car Club.  Our car was spotless, always.  So was our house. I'm talking ironed sheets and the whole family dusting and vacuuming to Nat King Cole on Saturday mornings.  It amazes me, now that I think about it, that my mother was such a fan of Erma and her scandalous views on the futility of cleaning.  My mom loved Erma. We had one of her books warming on our bathroom radiator for years.  Erma actually spoke at my college commencement.  DePauw University, 198_.  I remember her talking about toilets. Cleaning toilets, to be exact.  I wasn't really listening, obviously, but I'm sure my mom was.  Who would have ever imagined I'd later be part of an Erma clog, wishing I could remember that long-ago day's words of wisdom on all things domestic?  I imagine they were much more than that. Here's to Erma, motherhood, clogs, and yes, even cleaning toilets.  Especially if someone else is cleaning them.

These are just brief introductions--daily (M-F) entries begin June 9--we hope you'll stop by so we can all get to know one another better. While it takes a whole village to raise a child, we're thinking we might need the entire internet to raise teens!