Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I'm going to scrape what is left of me off the floor in order to write this post...not sure why when I still have gifts to wrap...

Growing up, I LOVED Christmas! It wasn't even the presents per se, although I can still remember sprinting into my grandmother's den on Christmas morning 1981 to find...inhale, inhale...The Berry Bakeshop!!!! Now my Strawberry Shortcake dolls could make real plastic pies!  That Christmas, I was also covered in chicken pox, but no one seemed bothered.  Those were simpler times, when kids rode in the backs of pick up trucks, babies were casually tossed in the floorboard, and people actually went over to other people's houses with communicable diseases and didn't judge the hosts if they served canned vegetables and shake-n-bake.

Christmas of 1981 was one our our American Christmases, which we always spent at my Memaw's house with my mother's entire extended family, about 15 people, the occasional pet, and one toilet, which was attached to one septic tank.  And a partridge in a pear tree.  But it was Texas, so make that a prickly pear tree.  One Christmas, my Pepa crushed up prickly pear for my sister to rub on a boil she had on her butt.  It came to a head the next day, and she was healed. True story!  But back to that septic tank.  It was an issue.  We weren't allowed to flush the toilet unless we had had some serious words with it.  And we never flushed toilet paper, that was pretty much a mortal sin at which even baby Jesus looked askance.  In any case, the house was bursting at the seams, but I don't remember anyone being stressed.  I certainly wasn't stressed.   I loved every minute of it, all the adults making a big fuss over me, eating all kinds of awesome food, running around with my cousins.  The togetherness was even better than the presents.  Except for the Berry Bakeshop, that really was the best.  In fact, that was pretty much the pinnacle of my existence as a Christmas consumer.

Our other Christmases were in Kenya, and there we had togetherness of a different kind.  Not with blood relatives, but with the community of missionaries that lived in our town.  At the time, it seemed like a solid week of parties, starting with my unfortunately timed birthday, then various families hosted teas and brunches and lunches and what have you.  Actually, I think there was just a Christmas Eve tea and a Christmas Day lunch.  But it just seemed bigger to me than that, HUGE, like Donald Trump would have been impressed even.  After the tea on Christmas Eve, we all drove up to this remote Anglican church on the foothills of Mt. Kenya, accessed by a dirt/mud road in which someone always got stuck, for a candlelight service with all the British/white Kenyan people who attended church once a year.  I always got a big kick out of the white Kenyans. They were like British people who were still stuck in an earlier time when you had to be properly introduced to people, you didn't just go around saying "hey there" like Americans do.  They could be found at dog shows, flower shows, golf courses, bridge tournaments, equestrian-related places, and once a year at this tiny stone church on Christmas Eve, where I am sure they were chagrined to be invaded by a bunch of cheery Americans who didn't know the proper tune to "Away in a Manger."  It was one of the few church services I actually enjoyed as a child--it was in English for one thing, there was lots of singing, the aforementioned snooty British people, and of course the fire and dripping wax aspect of things, which made it all just perilous enough to be exciting without any real danger of anyone setting fire to the place.  Then we went back to the tea, which was refashioned as an evening reception I think?  Someone out there correct me, but I remember eating and visiting pretty much the whole day. Then again on Christmas Day, so by the time it was all over, I had probably eaten all my calories for the entire year, which was a darn good thing, since days later I would be returning to boarding school, where one enjoyed such fine fare as hairy fried chicken and beanies and weenies.

Here's the thing about Christmas as a child--behind all those sweet memories, fun, gifts, food, warmth, joy, peace and togetherness was an army of women working their little hineys off and trying not to go insane.  Trying not to be stressed, lest it ruin the magic of the season.  I can only imagine that my Memaw was either secretly drunk or high the entire time or doing little mantras in her head so she would not burst a blood vessel while she worried about that septic tank overflowing and the turkey turning out dry.  Those were the dark ages, before Zoloft, Xanex, and yoga. And my mother and the other missionary women in Kenya--none of whom drink, incidentally--cooked nonstop for about a month--without anything resembling a Safeway or Walmart anywhere in the whole country, much less around the corner and absolutely no pre-packaged food of any kind--to bring everyone a week-long party on wheels.  And how about our Christmas gifts, again without Walmart or Amazon or anywhere to buy anything.  She had to plan years in advance and have toys sent over for us in our every-few-years freight shipment.  I think of that, as my children change their Christmas wish list every few days, and wonder how on earth did she think Santa would manage?  Of course it helped we had no TV, internet or friends who knew what was going on in pop culture.  One year, I somehow got a hold of a Sears toy catalog, and my entire universe changed.  I learned there was something called a Cabbage Patch Kid and that I would most likely--and my mother would certainly--live a tortured, dissatisfied existence unless I could obtain one.

Unfortunately, I grew up, a huge bummer on so many levels. And even more unfortunate, I grew up into a woman/mom, and now it is my job apparently to fill everyone's lives with Christmas magic.  And it kind of takes it out of a person.  And by the time Christmas actually gets here, I'm pooped and more than a little crazed.  When I hear "Carol of the Bells" on the radio, which is totally a creepy song, can we just agree on that? I could swear that the bells are taunting me for my lack of magic.

Here come the bells They're here to tell Your gifts ain't swell Your cookies are stale The Christmas lights Aren't very bright Which bulb is out You must find out Your kids are brats They Don't Give a rat About Jesus birth Or the very poor Oh see the Christmas cards pouring in You are indeed late once again Merry Merry Merry Christmas!!!!

Christmas is that awesome time of the year that combines the pressure of both endless detail and organization with finding ways to convey the important stuff, like Faith, Tradition, Meaning, Family.  You really can't do the former without being stressed out, but you can't really do the latter if you are stressed out.  Then there are just the blatant contradictions of buying (and wrapping! Oy!) your kids a bunch of presents while trying to tell them about the True Meaning of Christmas.  I always have all kinds of plans for how I will manage this involving Fun Family Outings, Cute Advent Bible Verse Games, Christmas Baking and Crafts, Serving the Poor, and of course Building a Fire.  My plan always goes out the window,and I end up slapping an adhesive bow on the whole thing, binge eating peppermint bark, and screaming, "Santa's already gone to the store and besides, there are poor children in Burundi!!!" every time my kids change their mind about what they want.

If my kids grow up with the angelic aura of nostalgia surrounding their holiday memories, it will be a Christmas miracle.

And let me take the opportunity to say THANK YOU to my mother and grandmother and all the other women (and, honestly, no men. They just showed up along with the kids and let the magic happen) who made my childhood Christmases pure joy and light.

Finally, I will end with a proposal--perhaps President Obama can enact it as a parting gift to the women of America, since, according to polls, most of the men hate him anyway (or at least the white ones)--that Christmas 2016 be the Christmas Done By Men.  They get to do all the decorating, cooking, cleaning, buying, wrapping, crafting, charitable serving, family outing organizing, advent remembering, party planning, letter/card writing, and magic making, and we women will just show up and eat everything and pass out in some recliners.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The F Word

No, this post is not about my kids going around cussing people out (I'm sure that's coming).  This is about that other F word, one that has dogged my entire existence and permeated my view of myself and one that I hope never enters my daughter's self-estimation.  I'm referring of course to FAT.

Friends, my pathological fear of being fat is so deep, I am ashamed to say that one of the things I will probably regret on my death bed is that I never reached my goal weight.  I hope that is not the case, but I have already wasted so much headspace and energy and angst on what I weigh or in trying not to care so much about what I weigh, there is a very good possibility.  When I was in high school, I saw this made for TV movie about Karen Carpenter, who died of anorexia.  I'm sure the makers of that movie intended it as a warning about the dangers of eating disorders and not as inspiration for weight loss, but that is exactly how I took it.  Fortunately, I never could pull off self-starvation.  For one thing, I get very shaky and faint-feeling, not to mention super cranky, after just a few hours of not eating anything.  If I truly went down the anorexic path, someone would probably bludgeon me to death for being insufferable long before the disease did any damage to my health.  For another thing, I simply love food.  And hate it, of course.  It's complicated, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton or seemingly large portions of America and Donald Trump, although that is a toxic relationship I can't pretend to understand.  I also tried bulimia--while I excelled at the binging part (crushed it, truly), I have a freakishly weak gag reflex and have in fact thrown up exactly 11 times in my entire life, which admittedly has featured very little alcohol consumption.  I have never been able to make myself vomit, despite great effort.  So I never developed an eating disorder, despite years of trying and the ideal setting--boarding school was the perfect venue for pursuing an eating disorder, and I'm sad to say some girls had more success on that front.  For one thing, the food was wretched, even by my very low standards (I even thought the Indonesian Beef and Bananas was edible).  Then of course, no one really pays attention to what you are eating (or to you in general, and there is of course a connection there), except for your friends, and honestly, I am ashamed to say my worry about my friends' possible starvation was fueled more out of fear they would be thinner than me than actual care for their health.   Yes, I told you, it's pathological.

So in lieu of a real eating disorder, I have spent my entire life doing what so very many women do, going around in super fun cycles of eating too much (which at age 40 consists of a cookie. ONE. Sigh.), self-flagellation, dieting, weighing myself, getting depressed, then start the whole wonderful thing over again like some sort of endless breastfeeding session.  It was particularly bad in the early 90's--my deep depression during that time aside, the fashion trends were terribly unflattering (does anyone look good in high-waisted, pleated, tapered pants? No, they don't.), and I'm extremely saddened by the throwback trends were are seeing now.  I predict a rash of mental illnesses stemming from a return to 90's fashion.   Other than periods of ugly fashion, pregnancy and post-childbirth was pretty brutal on my self-esteem--I gained a TON of weight, outweighed my husband by around month 4, and afterwards looked like the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters.  I have occasionally gotten into healthy cycles where I ate very well and moderately without really worrying about what I weigh, but those never last more than a few months.  The early 2000s were a good time for me, due to the prevalence of boot- and trouser-cut, flat front pants--very flattering on everyone.  Getting into running was a big boost as well, because I started focusing on strength and performance rather than weight and appearance.  I viewed myself as an athlete, and as big of a stretch as that is, I totally bought my own hype and it was glorious.  Sadly, I haven't been able to run much of late due to injury, and things are starting to slide (including my butt down the back of my legs).  I am doing other exercises, but it's pretty hard to think of yourself as an athlete and not a aging suburban mom when you are speed walking around the hood with the retirees.

In general, I hate feeling BIG.  I am a tall woman with big bones, and just to stand upright and exist as a human, I have to weigh a certain amount, which is about 25 pounds more than I would like to weigh.  I will never, ever be a beautiful, small Asian woman, as I have always wanted to be, or what I refer to as a "teeny girl," who is like 5'3" and 100 lbs and is at the top of the cheerleading pyramid and can be thrown around in the air by pretty much anyone or a stiff wind and is married to someone who towers over her and when they kiss, it is like Gone with the Wind, she practically throws out her neck and has to wear toe shoes just to reach his face and when she is 9 months pregnant with quadruplets she still weighs less than I do now and she is just adorable and tiny.  Somehow in my mind, which is obviously really screwed up, that is more feminine than what I feel like much of the time, which is some kind of amazonian female football player without any athletic ability (Can I tell you how many times I've been asked if I play basketball?  Sadly, that requires hand-eye coordination in addition to height).

I won't go into the roots of my issues here, they are many and complex, but they are real, although if you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking, "This girl is RIDICULOUS," I would have to agree with you.  It IS ridiculous that I care so much, this is one of my battles that will probably go on for the rest of my life, unfortunately.  I continue to work on letting go.  I also try very hard not to pass my affliction down to my daughter.  I can already tell she has my cankles and general body type, and I ache to think she may one day find fault with her beautiful, healthy body.  I'm sure it will happen to some extent, due simply to the culture in which we live.  But I don't want her to expend the kind of time and emotional energy on something that, beyond basic health, does not matter.

And I'm happy to report, that in this one, small, tiny area of motherhood, I am mostly meeting my goals.  I won't say I am having success, because time will tell, and a lot of this is beyond my control.  But I have consistently, mostly done the following, with of course a few lapses:
1) I keep my own self-loathing out of her earshot.  I don't talk about gaining or losing weight in front of her.  I don't beat up on my appearance in front of her.
2) I talk a lot about health and strength and passion.  I talk about how running makes me strong and how I love doing it and how fun it is (it helps that it is all true, I'm not faking it).  I talk about healthy and unhealthy food, how too much sugar will make you sick, and how much our bodies love vegetables, fruits and proteins.  She knows how to read a nutrition label and immediately finds protein and sugar content.  We do not talk about calories and not even fat.  We stick to sugar and protein.
3) I try never to comment on the appearance of others, weight or otherwise.  If I need to describe a person, I try to do it objectively.  This is especially true of her friends--if I meet one of her friends, I don't say, "She's a cute girl" but rather "She seems like a sweet person" or "He's really funny."
4) I do tell her she is beautiful, because I think all girls/women need to hear that and believe that about themselves.  But I try to do it in a way that is more comprehensive, and I never, ever compare her to others (i.e.  Susie has such beautiful hair. Don't you want to grow your hair out like Susie?)

Y'all know I don't really give parenting advice because, hello, I'm a freaking disaster.  My parenting advice usually comes down to telling folks to get them a Zoloft prescription.  But this is one area that I do feel strongly about--If you have a daughter, I urge you to please be conscious of what you say and do in front of her.  We are all going to screw things up, and there are so many other influences on our kids than just us, but at least try to pass on a life of health and freedom in this area.  I pray the next generation of women will do a better job of loving themselves and caring for their bodies than we have.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I have a dream

One of the toughest things for me about being a mom is watching my house constantly refill with crap, like some kind of 7-11 Big Gulp cup.  There must be some kind of genetic aversion to clutter and chaos, and I have a very bad case of it.   It is slightly situational in my case.  If something completely belongs to me, such as my desk at work, I am not nearly so anal, and in fact, my co-workers may even call me disorganized (shocking!).  But sharing a space with other people who do not also share my vision for home organization is enough to send me over the edge.  As my kids have gotten older, I don't think it's the disorder so much that drives me crazy (although it has increased exponentially), it's the fact that they have independent means of acquiring crap and scattering it all about the house.  In sum, I think it's pretty obvious that the root issue is CONTROL.  I don't like feeling like I have none.

The solution to this is of course to work on myself and my need to feel in control of my environment, because clearly, I am the problem, and more specifically, I am the only part of the problem that I have any chance of solving, because let's just face facts, it is more likely that Donald Trump will inspire a new trend in men's hairstyles than my children will start organizing anything.  It ain't happening.  But allow me my fantasy for just a moment, to imagine a world where all the people work together to make me less crazy.

Fantasy #1: Parents stop sending goody bags home from parties.  Oh my sweet angel Gabriel do I despise those things.  They are engineered to produce parental insanity.  They usually consist of:  a ring pop, in order that your child both rot their teeth and ruin your sofa at the same time, would that the federal government operate with that kind of efficiency;  a pencil, a useful item in theory, but when your child already has 107 unsharpened pencils laying around the house, not so much, unless you are planning to build a tree house or refloor your house with them; an eraser so tiny, it is guaranteed to end up wedged between your toes if not in your butt crack and has no hope of erasing anything bigger than a pencil lead molecule; a roll of stickers that your child immediately decoupages your dining room table with; several plastic Chinese-made items, the most popular being tops that don't spin, spider rings that don't fit on anyone's finger, sunglasses that melt in the sun, bouncy balls that don't bounce or else bounce so vigorously they take out several windows within minutes of entering the house.  Extra-special goody bags include tiny stuffed animals that come undone and leave a gruesome trail of polyester intestines in their wake; tiny tubs of play dough, which will inevitably be left on the floor with the cap off overnight and provoke a massive fit the next morning when you are unable to make the play dough elephant your preschooler requires for survival from the pile of dried out crumbs that remains; and tiny boxes of poor quality crayons that are probably made from whatever is left from whatever they make hotdogs out of.   This fantasy could actually be a reality if all parents came together and just said NO and started doing what I have begun doing, because I am just that awesome, giving books out to party guests, who probably already have too many books and aren't terribly enthused, but at least books are less likely to turn a perfectly lovely mother into a some sort crazed drill sergeant who roams through the house compulsively throwing things into a trash bag.  

Fantasy #2: Schools stop sending home paper.  The digital age has arrived everywhere except America's public schools.  Correction, the digital age has arrived in America's public schools if you are talking about issuing iPads to kindergartners so they can read the very same book that is on that shelf over there on an iPad and parents can be forced to pay for the iPad when their kindergartner breaks or loses it.  God forbid we use the iPads to email things to parents instead of killing a rain forest or three with a stack of flyers, letters, announcements, and of course, forms that stacked altogether could build a paper bridge to Mars to save Matt Damon.  That would be a bridge too far (I KILL myself).  What is really, really offensive its that children's backpacks seem to have replaced the US postal service as a conduit for junk mail marketing.  How is it a good use of teachers' time and parents' sanity to be stuffing flyers for the YMCA fall festival or ads for custom clothing labels in my kid's backpack?  ENOUGH.    

Fantasy #3: People stop giving my child craft sets for their birthdays.  I know I sound like an ingrate, but my soul just can't handle these.  If my child could make an adorable sock puppy all by herself (or wanted to) that would be one thing, but let's face it, I'm gonna end up making that damn puppy AND THEN I'm gonna end up with a button eye in my butt crack, along with the tiny eraser, when the dismembered sock puppy ends up in my bed.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: I DON'T DO CRAFTS.  And a big reason why I don't do crafts is that after you do crafts, you have to DO SOMETHING with the crafts, unless you are so talented that you can make something you would actually want to use or display long term in your home or on your person, like a refrigerator or a diamond necklace.  If my child and I could make a refrigerator together (with ice dispenser, because I actually do need one of those), then you may give me a craft set.  Alternatively, if you plan to come over to my house and do the craft set with my child and then remove the finished product from the premises, you may give me a craft set.  If this is not how you want to use your Saturday, I beg of you, no craft sets of any kind.  Please, I sadly don't have that kind of mental health.

Fantasy #4: My children actually put away their toys.  Ideally I would add "in an organized fashion," but that is a dream too big for my brain to dream, at least until the day that I become BFFs with Bono, Oprah, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert, and we all retire together in adjacent tiny houses surrounding a central clubhouse with a pool and gourmet chef on an island in the Pacific purchased for us by Oprah.   When that dream comes true, then I will allow myself to consider an existence in which my children grasp the brilliance of the bin system I have going on and become my partners in its maintenance.  Until then, I would actually just settle for them keeping the toys in the 3 rooms that belong to them.  How hard is that?  In Africa, families of 15 live in 3 rooms, but that is apparently insufficient lodging for my children's toys, like they are some kind of family of Dallas ranchers or late 19th century imperialists with sprawling ambitions.  

Fantasy #5: My husband keeps being the funny, sexy, brilliant best friend that he already is.  And that he keeps his toiletries on his side of the vanity.  And occasionally puts his change in the designated receptacle. And throws away his receipts and pocket litter, puts his shoes inside this closet, and keeps his closet in such a state that I can actually open its door and put away a shirt without having a panic attack.  Honey, it's not you, it's me.  You already confine yourself and your stuff in an area of the house so small the tiny lego people that also end up in my butt crack at night, along with the tiny erasers and the sock puppy eyes, could not make a comfortable home there.  I full acknowledge that I am a complete head case.  A complete headcase with a dream, nonetheless.

Fantasy #6: No one in my house has any shoes or any coats except for me.  I, of course, have as many as I like, which I keep organized in their own room. Also, that fruits and vegetables never go bad in my refrigerator. And, nothing ever breaks or needs repair or cleaning in my entire home.  Lastly, that Robert Mugabe just goes ahead and dies.  And Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian run away together to live out their days on a remote Mongolian steppe.  This one is a catch-all fantasy.  

Basically: I have a dream today, to one day live in a Pottery Barn catalog with no other people anywhere in the vicinity but that I somehow never get lonely or need anyone for anything and my diapers will magically change themselves when I am 90.  Then me and the tiny lego people and the sock puppies can all join together and sing, me from my Pottery Barn house and they from the trash can where they will live for eternity, Free At Last, Free At Last, Thank God Almighty, We are Free At Last.  And a little bit bored and lonely, quite frankly.  But mostly free.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

People I Judge and Why

It is human nature to judge others, probably because it is more fun than watching monkeys pee on people from trees (which is so much fun, unless it's you being peed on).  For the brief moment you are judging, before you realize what a horrible person you are, you feel like you are the most amazing, talented, beautiful, and righteous person on the planet.  In your mind, you are strutting around like a peacock and everyone is thinking, wow, that is one super awesome peacock.  Then of course, you do indeed realize you are a horrible person, unless you are a really, really, really horrible person (or an actual peacock), in which case this fact never dawns on you.

A lot of people get confused as to what it means to judge.  Some people think it means you can't say someone's behavior is right or wrong, while other people use the excuse of judging others' behavior to feel awesome about themselves.  So let me clarify--To judge others is to say that given that other person's genetic make-up, socioeconomic status, educational level, family and environmental influences, their everything, you could do so much better than they are doing.  It is when you compare yourself to others, and you come off looking all hot and awesome.

And we want to feel hot and awesome, because deep, deep down, we really don't.  For some people, these feelings of self-doubt and inferiority are buried so deep under judgment of others and repressed emotions and memories and probably some old pizza boxes and a bunch of other crap, they never realize that's why they are judging.  Well, I'm WAY more self-aware than those people, and I totally can identify that I'm judging and why (see how easy and fun that is?).

So here are just some of the poor folks I routinely judge and what's really going on.

1) Women who have bunches of children (by choice).
What I say to myself:  OMG, I can't believe that woman is pregnant with her 4th child.  She is obviously crazy, has no other real interests or talents other than breeding, and/or is a victim of patriarchal assumptions about women, either explicit or subtextual.  She has no idea what subtextual means, obviously.  And she so better never get on a airplane I'm on with all those kids.  If she does, I will spend the entire flight thinking judgy thoughts.
What is really going on: I suck.  I have to be on medication and talk myself through several panic attacks per day just to (badly) raise my two kids, and this woman apparently finds motherhood so easy, she is voluntarily gonna double that.  Like a BOSS.  I bet she doesn't even own a television.

2) Women who breastfeed.
What I say to myself: Why do women keep subjecting themselves to a form of human slavery and barbarism in the 21st century?  OF COURSE women are never going to make as much money as men, when so many educated women are choosing to make milk instead. How convenient for their husbands, they just can't lift a finger to parent because, sorry, honey, I don't have boobs.    And how they lord it over everyone, like, oooh, look at me, I can keep my child alive without a grocery store nearby.  As if that is even a real talent.  You don't see Miss America contestants lactating on stage, but if these tyrants have their way, I'm sure it's coming. Gross.
What's really going on:  I suck.  I have failed at the very first test of motherhood.  I am unable to do what women have been doing for like a million years.  If it weren't for formula, my genetic line would die right here, right now.  Nature is telling me, nope, your kind aren't fit to perpetuate the human race. You're fired!

3) Women who have babies without an epidural.
What I say to myself: Those women are absolutely nuts.  There is no proven medical reason to put yourself through that.  The only reason they are doing it is to feel all superior.  No, ladies, you aren't superior, you're just crazy.
What is really going on:  In this case, nothing.  I honestly don't understand why anyone would forego an epidural.  Sorry.  I'm sure you are awesome people and mothers, but I can't for the life of me understand your decision-making.

4) Parents who don't allow screen time.
What I say to myself: Oooooh, aren't they all perfect and overachieverish.  They are probably already working on little Johnny's college entrance essays.  Well, he may get into Harvard, but as soon as he's there, he's gonna start binge watching Netflix to make up for years of deprivation and have to be forcibly removed from his dorm room by psychiatrists.
What is really going on: I suck.  I am turning my kids into zombies just so I don't have to sit in the floor and play legos.  What is so bad about legos?  You can make really cool stuff, like a block of legos.  I don't know why I can't just suck it up and play some legos.  Or do a craft.  Kids need crafts like they need air.  Get some cotton balls and glue and crap and see what kind of childhood magic unfolds.  My kids are totally ending up in an institution run by Johnny.

5) People who do all kinds of charity work.
What I say to myself:  The fact that I know they do all kinds of charity work is proof that any good they are doing out there is negated by all their bragging about it.  Jesus said to do all this kind of stuff in SECRET.  That's what he said, so those people are disobeying Jesus.  Me, I don't do diddly squat for my fellow man but at least I don't brag about it.  And Jesus loves me no matter what, y'all, for the Bible told me so.
What is really going on: I suck.  My idea of charity work is to not scream at my kids for a few hours. There are people starving out there, and I'm over here internet shopping and snorting Zoloft.  What an over-indulged American life I'm leading, when I totally know better.  Yeah, Jesus loves me, but he probably also thinks I need to get off the couch.  Sorry, Jesus.  I'll do better when I'm less crazy.

6) Really, really political people (left and right)
What I say to myself: You people are the reason this world is so messed up.  All you do is yell at each other and talk about how awful the other side is instead of compromising and coming up with realistic solutions so we can get some stuff done around here.  Plus you really are incapable of seeing the nuances of the moral universe we live in.  Life is complicated, and you just come barreling in here like you have all the answers. What arrogance.
What is really going on:  I suck.  True, the yelling and screaming and not compromising is annoying and not terribly productive, but at least those folks are engaged.  I've basically opted out because I don't like confrontation.  But the yelling and screaming and not compromising is pretty awful, I just have to say.

7) Really beautiful people.
What I say to myself: Well, it's gotta be nice not to have to use your brain or have any talent and have the world handed to you on a platter just because you look amazing.  I am such a deep, substantial person that I don't even focus on my appearance.  Plus, we are all going to be old and crinkly soon.  I almost feel sorry for the beautiful people, because that's all they have, and they can't keep it.
What is really going on: I suck. I so want to be pretty, and I'm really not very pretty.  I know it's dumb to feel that way at the age of 40, but I really do.  Maybe if I buy another new dress, people will think I'm pretty, too.

8) Really beautiful people who are also smart and talented.
What I say to myself: Welp, don't they think they are God's gift to the universe.  People like that can just be as vile as they want to be, and that is too bad, because they are probably gonna die alone, whereas I will be surrounded by cats if nothing else.  Cats can tell when a person is nice. They are not going to surround a dying formerly beautiful, talented, but mean person.
What is really going on: I suck.  I also want to be pretty and smart.  I have never seen myself as very pretty, but I've always thought I was at least smart.  That person is proving you can be both, and that just makes me feel bad.  And cats are just OK.

9) Really beautiful people who are also smart, talented, AND genuinely nice.
What I say to myself:  I HATE YOU!!! YOU MUST BE DESTROYED!!!
What is really going on:  I SUCK!!!  I CAN'T EVEN HATE YOU!!! I AM A FAILURE AT EVERYTHING!!!!

That is, sadly, just a partial list.  The good news is that I find when you stare your judgment in the face and look at its roots, it starts to whither just a little bit.  And as you judge others less, you can love them more.  And as you love them more, you think less about your own failings or even your own awesomeness. And as you think less about your own failings and your own awesomeness, you start to see yourself as God sees you, a being with inherent worth.  And that is Grace, my friends.  It is the foundation of what I believe.  It's all about facing the truth and being set free. It's a process.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Child's Guide to Psychological Torture and Abuse

Congratulations on your birth and welcome to the world.  I think you'll find it a pretty amazing place, but only if you rule it and those you in your social orbit.   Ideally, those poor saps will do your bidding anytime, any place, all the time, and to your specifications, as if you are Oprah.  They will do it fast, and they will do it now.  Not only will you get what you want, when you want it, it will be just truckloads of fun watching them frantically run around like chipmunks on caffeinated steroids while you bark orders at them.

I will tell you up front, however, that size, strength, and weaponry are not on your side.  You will soon notice that you are indeed a pip-squeak and that the adults in your life can physically pick you up, move you around, and if necessary, wrestle you to the ground.  That is their trump card.  Their achilles heel, however, is that they think you are cute, and they are bound by the rules of reason, logic, and civilized behavior.   You can use this.   You don't think they are cute (they have acne and wrinkles and cellulite and body odor), and you have no concern for civilization, except as something that must be destroyed.  Your mission is dictatorship, pure and simple.  In other words, these adults can fairly easily be manipulated to do your bidding, and although clever acting and emotional appeals can be very effective, your best weapon is just brute psychological torture.  In this manual, I will show you how to do this.  With any luck, by the time you are 18, your parents will be catatonic shells, and you will get all their money.  In the meantime, you will get a bunch of other stuff that you want.  And even stuff you never really wanted but just wanted to see if you could get.  And more stuff you didn't even ask for but they got it for you anyway hoping you would shut up and leave them alone.  Never shut up, and never leave them alone, I don't care what kind of awesome crap they come home from Target with.  

So here are some specific strategies:
1)  Obviously, lots of screaming and crying, and before you can talk, this is all you can really do.  But it doesn't get much more effective, so you'll be just fine.  It is a sight to behold to watch the adults scramble when you melt down, like a bunch of insects when you lift up the rock they are all living under.  They cannot handle it.  Of course you are going to cry when you're hungry and wet and tired, but they'll figure those things out.  They key is to cry FOR NO REASON AT ALL and to keep going when they have exhausted every possibility.  That's pure gold.  When you get old enough to talk, you can pair your meltdowns with absolute ridiculousness, like I wanted to leave 4 cheerios floating in my milk but I wasn't paying attention and ate too many and now there are only 3 cheerios in my milk.  When they throw another cheerio in there, start screaming even harder and claim that it just isn't the same thing and they didn't give you a chance to try to vomit up the other cheerio first.  

2) When you do learn to talk, talk incessantly.  It doesn't have to make any sense.  But you don't want to just talk nonsense to yourself all the time, because then they will zone out and enjoy the peace of their own brain.  You want to pepper your babbling with some questions for them.  That way, they really can't ever zone out.  If they don't hear your questions or ignore your questions, go back to the crying thing.  In general, you want to ask questions that can't be answered, either because they are not age appropriate (Why are you taking that pill?) or can't be answered by most adults (How do you do brain surgery?) or, best of all, questions that can't be answered BECAUSE THEY MAKE NO SENSE.  Some examples include:
Why is our house made out of legos before sunrise?  
Why don't the green fairies take a cheese bath after they wake me up to go to sleep?
Why don't I like chicken nuggets today where the princess lives?
Why does poop look like a rainbow but the grass is wet?
If you ask these types of questions, the adults will not know where to start.  If they do attempt an answer, such as "Our house isn't made out of legos," you can then scream, "I said BEFORE sunrise!!!"  Eventually they will give up and just say they don't know, at which point go completely ballistic and insist they DO know, they just aren't telling you.  

3) Argue any and every point.  Refuse to believe any fact presented.  If you ask an honestly curious question and get an actual answer that is true and make sense, reject it out of hand.  Make up your own facts just like they do in political campaigns.  If the sky is blue, insist that it is green.  If your mother asks you to put on shoes, claim you don't own any.  If the earth's climate is changing and glaciers are melting, argue the other side until the earth is covered in sea water.  Never give in. You can win every single argument if you refuse to acknowledge reality.  Belief in logic and facts is a fatal weakness that all (OK, most) grown-ups possess.  

4) Make everything a silly game.  When your parents want you to do something, like get dressed or brush your teeth, pretend they actually want to play chase or tag or Australian football.  Or just that you have been named as the host of a late night talk show for toddlers.  Laugh like a banshee.  When they get mad, laugh even harder.  When their heads explode and their brains splatter onto the ceiling, get all pretend remorseful and claim you were only trying to light up their lives with giggles and smiles and you are so vewwy sowwy Mommy (pathetic sad face).  

5) Pretend you don't want ANYTHING.  Make yourself incorruptible on the bribery front.  You know, like an American politician.  Whatever they offer you, you don't want it, they can keep it, whatever.  If you are offered Star Wars toys, claim you don't even like Star Wars.  If they bring up the fact that you have been making a light saber out of everything from a fork to a tampon you found in your mother's bathroom, act like your parents are insane. Oh, and then ask them what that tampon thing is.  

5a) On a related theme--screen time.  Be a complete addict most of the time and go in to seizures when they turn it off, as if you are coming off heroin.  However, when they actually want you to watch TV--when they have other adults they want to talk to, when they want to sleep, when they have things they want to get done--show absolutely no interest in anything but clinging to their legs and saying "Mommy" 8,000 times in succession.  Make them BEG you to watch something, ANYTHING on some kind of device.  

6) When it comes to food, keep them on their toes.  Say you like broccoli, then when your mother cooks it for you, yell, "EWWWW!!!"  and give it to the dog.  When your mother urges you to try one bite of something, take a bite so small you would need a microscope to detect its existence.  Then say you actually do like it.  Then refuse to eat any more of it.  Mix things up.  Make your favorite food bean burritos but then refuse to eat any been burrito that doesn't come from Taco Bell.  When you are offered a Taco Bell bean burrito, insist that it did NOT come from Taco Bell and stand firm in the face of irrefutable proof, such as being driven through the Taco Bell drive through and being handed a burrito (see #3).  

7) Limit your parents' sleep as much as possible.  This is really foundational to everything else, as sleep-deprived individuals are more easily driven to nervous breakdown.  Obviously, this is child's play when you are a baby, it comes with the territory.  But keep it going as you grow up.  By year 4 or 5, when you totally know better, come in their room every morning at 5 am and jump on the bed shrieking with delight.  If they get mad, tell them you had a bad dream and start crying.  If they offer you anything in exchange for peace and quiet, see #5.  

With all these strategies, and many others that I'm sure you will think of yourself, your goal is to create for your parents what psychologists call the "double bind." thefreedictionary.com says this is
A psychological impasse created when a person perceives that someone in a position of power is making contradictory demands, so that no response is appropriate.
Yep, nailed it.  Make it so your parents cannot win no matter what.  Hopefully they won't remember that they are actually the ones in a position of power.  That's what the sleep deprivation is for.  Good luck. And remember, if you are ever in doubt about how to behave, just watch some Real Housewives of Wherever on TV, and that should clear things up.   Or watching the proceedings of Congress on C-span would also be good.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

You just need a system

I really, really hate chaos.  I think humans are programmed to want some kind of order in their world, but some of us take it to another level and break out in hives when whoever emptied the dishwasher just threw all the tupperware on the shelf willy-nilly instead of stacked and sorted like God intended.  Some of us break out in hives at just the mention of tupperware, because it is a disaster waiting to happen, kind of like the Trump Administration or any cover of any U2 song, ever.  It's kind of weird that I can't stand chaos, since I grew up in Africa, where chaos reigns supreme.  I'm actually more relaxed when I'm there, because I think it's so far gone, I don't even try to care.  Just ride the wave, man.  If you die, you die.

Here in America, I can only take so much.  There's an expectation that you can and should control your own chaos by going to the Container Store.  I'm much better than I used to be--in college, I spent every single Saturday morning scrubbing my entire house.  It may have had something to do with the fact that I was married to someone I didn't want living there. Maybe I figured if my house was super clean, I wouldn't notice him standing over there in the corner?  That actually makes no sense, as it's easier to hide a person in a bunch of filth.  I bet the hoarders have multiple spouses living in there.  When they couldn't find one, they just married another one.  Then one day, someone relocates a pizza box and it's like, Oh My Word, there's my 2nd husband.  In any case, divorcing him helped cure me of that level of OCD, as did graduate school, which overwhelmed me with so much work, I really couldn't be on top of anything.  There's no better cure for perfectionism than just a firehose of stuff to perfect.  It's lower your standards or go into a catatonic seizure.

My precious Kevin also helped cure me with his...flexibility.  Yeah.  That's all I'll say about that, because I am not allowed to talk about him on here.
Then I had kids.  Kids are CHAOS.  Unlike Africa, though, there is an expectation there that I, as their mother, am supposed to do something about them.  So I can't just pass out in the back seat and leave my fate in the hand of my maker they way I deal with Kenyan roads, for instance.  I am driving this matatu (Kenyan bus for the uninitiated), and the road is just a horror show of potholes, crazy bus drivers, unroadworthy vehicles, corrupt cops, and dudes working under hoods while the vehicles they are working on are actually moving down the road (I saw that once, for real. Then I went back to sleep in the back seat).  Also, I might be a little drunk (kidding! Sort of. But I am on medication, as I have mentioned).  Yeah, so I am in the driver's seat, and it scares the living crap right out of me.  I'll be doing fine, then I'll see Lawson dump a huge bin of legos in the middle of the living room or worse, mix the legos and the Lincoln Logs Nooooooo!!!!!!, and it's like Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters when she gets possessed by Zuel.  Likewise when I realize my children have had nothing to eat but chicken nuggets and ice cream for a week.  Or haven't had a bath in 2 weeks.  Or have no clothes to wear.   Or are still running crazily through the house ignoring my entreaties to go to bed at 9 pm.  Or have just queued up their third movie while I haven't been paying attention.  Or have dressed the dog up as a pirate.  Or, my absolute favorite, when they take all of my 25 pairs of shoes out of my closet and model them all over the house.  I know I have too many pairs of shoes, but Lord have mercy, that one sends me into hysterics.  Or....anything indicating that I have been unsuccessful in controlling my world/taking care of my AOR/being a decent parent.  I wish I could be all, hey man, whatever, it's all good.  Or I wish I could be all,  I am Super Mom, and I have a schedule for every chore (I know of woman who had such a thing.  Fridays were for changing and laundering sheets, something I haven't done in....I think a Bush was president, not sure which one...), a system for every organizational challenge, a strategy for every behavior problem.   Instead I'm somewhere in the middle, not relaxed enough to co-exist with the chaos and not energetic enough to stay on top of it.  I think that is the very definition of neurosis.  Whatever it is, it's a deranged and disturbed existence.
I need to just give up and accept the fact that I am no match here.  I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl, a do-what-you-need-to-survive-in-the moment kind of person.  But no, I just can't accept it, and I keep coming up with new ways I am going to finally triumph over the chaos.  There are remnants of these systems all over my house.  I'm sure in a thousand years when someone unearths my home, they will find evidence of what they will mistakenly believe indicates that an organized, systematic person lived here.  They would be wrong.  Here are a few of the failures.

1) The 8-week meal schedule.  So my absolute least favorite thing in all of human existence is meal planning.  I dislike cooking, true, but I feel that I might not mind it if someone else decided what to cook and went and got all the ingredients for that.  I still might not cook it, but the chances would be better.  Anyway.  I decided I would invest some time and pain up front and make an 8-week meal schedule that I could just repeat ad nauseum (and with my cooking, that is a literal thing).  That way I wouldn't have to think, I would just do, and better yet, when someone around here asked that most awful of questions, "What is for dinner?" (seriously, it's like Do you believe the earth is round back when they drew and quartered folks) I would be able to shut that down with a quick, "Eggplant parmesan, people! Now shut up!"  So the ridiculous thing about me is I ACTUALLY DID THIS.  I made the meal plan. It took me hours and hours.  And then--I DID NOT USE IT.  I would look at Monday where it said I was going to cook pepper steak, and I would be all like, yeah, I'm not really feeling pepper steak.  Frozen pizza it is.  Or, even more ridiculous, I would scramble around all stressed looking for a new recipe on the internet and make that.  There's just no help for me.

2) The chore chart.  I decided when Charlotte was about 4 that she needed to start earning her keep around here.  So I bought this cute little chore and behavior chart, one of those adorable wooden Melissa and Doug deals.  I don't know who Melissa and Doug are, but I'm guessing they are sunbathing on their private island in the Pacific right about now after convincing all American parents that wooden toys that require no batteries will solve all their parenting dilemmas.  Yep, that's what's wrong with kids these days--plastic toys with batteries. A total gateway drug kind of thing. Anyway, their chore chart is SO convincing! They have tiles you can add with suggested chores, then there are blank ones so you can personalize it.  It has little pictures so pre-literate kids can still do their chores.  When I bought it, I had this vision of Charlotte happily checking off all her chores at the end of the day, chores which she had done without any prodding/nagging/demonic shrieks from me but rather for the pure joy and excitement of applying the little Melissa and Doug magnetic smiley faces to the board.  What child wouldn't get a thrill from that.  Well, I'll tell you.  Any child would indeed get a thrill from that. For exactly one day.  Then that child will lose interest and eventually start World War III with their mother if she insists we continue this absurd exercise.  Then sometimes she would want to do the chart, only to discover at the late hour of 8 or 9 pm that she had done exactly none of the chores that day, necessitating she do them RIGHT NOW in lieu of going to bed.  Then her mommy is put in the uncomfortable position of talking her out of doing her chores.  Well played, child, well played.

3) The star system.  No, this is not some kind of astrophysics tutorial.  This is where the children get stars on a blackboard for good behavior and lose them for bad behavior.  I got this from my sister, who is a missionary, so I figure it is good stuff.  Pretty motivating for awhile.  Until they realized that you can't take little chalk stars on a board to the bank or otherwise do anything with them, except show them off when friends come over (kind of like that collection of decorative spoons from around the world) So I had to up the ante with...

4) The star basket.  This brilliant scheme began when my kids became obsessed with Thomas the Train and decided they wanted every single engine ever made, which is like 539 now...make that 540, Fisher Price just rolled out Hercules as I was typing this.  This was the first time that the kids really, really wanted something, so I knew I had to exploit the heck of out it.  I bought a bunch of used engines and put them in a basket, and I told the kids they could pick one when they got 10 stars.  Oh, friends, those were halcyon days.  Days of honey and wine and roses and dancing. Those little engines made me an all-powerful dictator over my people,  just like Swiss bank accounts have done for so many African presidents.  I had those kids where I wanted them.  Until they could have cared less.  Then I was abruptly left with no power and a glut of classic, handpainted wooden train engines for my children to cherish for a lifetime.  The engines were replaced by spiderman crap, then books of various kinds....then the whole thing just came apart.  No one cared about stars anymore.  NASA was defunded, the dictator was overthrown, and the people ran amok in the streets.  Until Lawson's teacher suggested...

5) The family star system.  This was pretty much doomed from the start, I don't know why I bothered except for pure desperation.  Instead of the kids earning individual star tallies, we as a family would work together and earn them collectively by accomplishing goals we set for ourselves.  Then, when we reached our family goal, we got to do something fun for everyone (which honestly does not exist with kids. Let's be honest, it's fun for the kids, and with any luck, the parents will not be driven to drink).  The whole thing was a mini-demonstration of why socialism doesn't work, as if history hasn't already proven that a million times.  No one did their part, basically hoping to coast off others' achievements.  And when there were no achievements of any kind to coast off of, no one really cared any way, since the pay off wasn't that amazing, as it had to be shared.  And that is why you could not buy a damn thing in Tanzania in the 1980s.

6) Bribery, pure and simple.  Unfortunately, this means nothing to my kids because they don't know how much awesome Chinese crap there is to buy out there.  We rarely go in a store since I buy everything online, and they never see commercials, since they watch only on demand/Netflix.  I never thought I would want greedy kids that wanted a bunch of stuff.  Turns out kids who want nothing are far, far worse.  One time I offered Charlotte a dollar if she would go pick up all the dog poop in the yard.  She actually said to me, "Why would I want a dollar?"

7) The written down schedule.  Given that I was not having any luck incentivizing anything, I decided that what we really needed was more structure.  The kids have that in school, their choices are few, they know what's coming next, and everyone does fine.  So I wrote down the rules.  Hey, it worked for the United States.  English Common law is a chaotic mess, but the US Constitution fixes everything.  You just write it down.  Oh, but then you have to actually enforce it.  The schedule stood taped to the kitchen cabinet mocking me for several weeks before I finally took it down and shredded it.

8) Rotating toys.  I have this friend who is an early childhood expert with a blog, and she has this whole toy rotation system, where you bin up toys in carefully selected groupings to maximize brain development, and then you give the kids one bin at a time (yes, I know).  I could care less about brain development, but what I do care about is ORDER, and this sounded like a plan to me.  So I got some bins, I organized the toys in them (all the legos together, all the duplos together, all the dinosaurs together, etc) and I rearranged the bookshelves so i could put them out of reach.  The plan was I would get down a couple of bins at a time, and if a child wanted another one, they would have to clean up one they had out first.  How could this fail??  Fast forward to me on the phone with the cable company (no, we don't have a picture of any kind.  yes, I'm pretty sure I know the difference between a daytime talk show and a black screen), and Lawson screaming at me that he wants another bin!!!!  No, not that one!!! Not that one either!!!!!  the one with the RED car!!!! No No NOOOOO that one has the BLUE CAR!!!!! And me furiously dumping every toy we have out into a Mount Everest of toys as if someone is shooting rockets over my head.  Repeat this scenario with slight variations, and you have the brutal death of yet another system.

9) Just scream at everyone like a banshee until they get themselves together, which will never happen, pop a Zoloft, say some mantras ("The toys cannot hurt me.  No one will die from chicken nugget overdose.  CPS will not investigate infrequent bathing unless there is a flea infestation) and call it a day.




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Activities


When my children were babies and toddlers, I would dream of the day that I was no longer covered in bodily fluids and could shower without hearing the phantom screams of the baby I left on his play mat who had somehow managed to roll across the room and impale himself on the TV remote.   In another x many years, I thought to myself, I'll have it made! This will be easy!

Don't get me wrong, having a 7 year old and a 4 year old is MUCH better, it's like comparing my marathon time to some real Kenyan's or even to some 25 year old who thinks to themselves, I think I'll run a marathon today.  Apples and oranges.  But neither is it like returning to some blissful childless state where people just leave the house whenever they like and sleep til noon and eat meals while being seated the entire time.  Our clothing may no longer be covered in feces, but our schedules are covered in The Activities.

And The Activities begin early around here--your tiny baby needs help developing his appreciation of music, as well as his thigh muscles, and that's gonna cost you--so it's not like it's completely new with this stage of parenting.  But the urgency of The Activities really goes up several notches once your child can actually form coherent thoughts and sentences and can tell you that they want to study archery so they can shoot dragons from the sky or that they believe their destiny is to tap dance to Jingle Bell Rock.

First of all, let's just establish a basic fact.  ALL children, at least the yuppie offspring around here, MUST have Activities, preferably more than one.  There are a few reasons for this:
1)       The more you are out of your house, the less likely your children will fall into that most dangerous of habits known as Screen Time.  Screen Time is a straight path to degradation, stupidity, obesity, and probably hell.  One minute they are playing minecraft on their iPads and the next they are shooting up heroin.  Therefore it is imperative that you spend a minimum amount of time in your home.  Just make sure going to a lot of activities doesn’t mean you eat fast food for any meals.  I suggest installing a small kitchen in the back of your minivan to whip up healthy meals on the go.
2)      Harvard will ask how many activities your child does.  A 5.0 GPA just won’t cut it.  They also need to be an accomplished ballerina who play their own accompanying music.  While dancing to the music they are also playing.  And solving quadratic equations.  You do NOT want to insult the Harvard admissions people with your child’s lack of accomplishments.
3)      You acquire more ways to flatter your child into thinking they are the most amazing human who has ever lived.  Wow, Johnny, you did such a great job at racketball today!  I liked the way you swung that racket in the general vicinity of the ball as it whizzed by.  Wow, Suzy, you are an amazing potter! I can vaguely make out the outline of something that exists in real life from that lump of glazed clay.  Wow, just, WOW!  If you don’t do activities, your child will get bored of hearing how good they are at legos.  That’s if they can even hear you from the fog of Screen Time in which they will be immersed.
4)     But let’s face it: This isn’t mere flattery.  Your child IS a serious, burgeoning talent in SOMETHING.  They could be the next Michael Jordan or Kelly Clarkson or Kim Kardashian but if YOU don’t locate that enormous reserve of talent, they will amount to nothing.  Unless they are the next Kim Kardashian, then you don’t have to locate any talent at all, you just have to hope they have an ample derriere and annoyingly good self-marketing skills.  Perhaps a Baby PR class would be the thing to do (Twitter for Toddlers).  In any case, you do NOT want them to miss their calling in life, which they most certainly will if you don’t spend your weekends at T-Ball practice. 
5)  Why would you not pay someone to teach your kids something you could teach them for free? People need jobs.  
6)      Absolute, pure desperation to keep your child entertained and out of trouble in a way that won’t make you feel guilty.  Let’s just be honest.

But how in the world do you choose what Activities to do?  And then if you have more than one child, The Activities quickly become a logistical nightmare that may require you to hire some kind of consultant who used to work for Amazon or FedEx to figure it all out (and around here, those may exist, I don't know).  So many Activities, so few parents without jobs and interests other than their kids.

Since my kids' parents barely have enough hand-eye coordination between the two of them to change a light bulb, I have no illusions that I'm sitting on an Olympic athlete here, so that has backed off some of the pressure on the sports front.  However, they still do need physical activity lest they become mini Jabba the Hutts.  Charlotte expressed an early interest in tennis, so after she begged me for awhile, we tried that.  It did not go well, seeing as the point is to actually make contact with a ball.  We tried soccer for Lawson.  Unfortunately, he was more engrossed in his own thoughts than in the game.  You could almost see the thought bubble over his head going, "And everyone is running after that dumb ball because...? This reminds me of how the dinosaurs went extinct..."  We eventually settled on taekwondo for both of them, the main selling point there being that they could both be in the same class and could thereby avoid hiring the Amazon consultant.  And when they are 13 and some evil middle schooler (is there really any other kind?) bullies them because they have zero athletic ability, they can rudely awaken them with some kind of martial arts routine choreographed to the theme from Exodus.  The taekwondo has been of mixed success.  The incentive structure has the power to induce Charlotte into even greater heights of responsibility and obedience, but then the baseline there was already a well-trained German Shepherd who raises orphans in a North Korean prison camp.  On the other hand, the incentive structure has the power to induce Lawson to do...nothing he doesn't already want to do.  He's like, why do I need my next belt? What, are my pants going to fall down without it or something? And if so, why is that a bad thing? I don't even need pants.  Leave me alone while I have digital dinosaurs fight each other to the death on my Wii while I wear no pants.  

Charlotte has also taken to horse riding, which has the triple benefit of being expensive, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous.   So how in the world did she get into that? It's not like we see our neighbors on their way to work atop their noble steeds.  In this case, I can blame no one but myself, and also Groupon, because they had an offer for a riding lesson for two, and I thought it would be so amazing to have a mommy-daughter date and go ride horses.   Of course, she adored it and wanted more lessons, something any Mom-fool, who herself had loved riding horses and wearing those adorable velvet hats as a girl, could see from several thousand miles away.  So every week we spend 2 hours round trip and I shell out enough dough to feed a Rwandan orphanage for a year so that my little girl can live my childhood dream.   

Other than that, we've only dabbled in this and that.  Lawson had a brief stint as a gymnast, which basically consisted of throwing himself into a pit of foam.  Charlotte has taken various after school classes, including cooking, hip hop dance, and chess.  She's actually pretty good at chess, although I'm afraid she believes herself very good at hip hop.  At a wedding recently, she tore up the dance floor, incorporating various breakdancing moves, as well as some more "original" ones that channeled Elaine Benes on Seinfeld in that episode where no one could tell if she was dancing or having an epileptic seizure.  I've tried in vain to get her to take piano, but I showed my over-eager hand on that front, ensuring that she is more likely to become Beyonce's next back-up dancer than any kind of pianist.  With Lawson, I plan to remain very blase, while suggesting that the keys are made from dinosaur bones that, if played well, may reconfigure themselves into a fully formed skeleton.  I'm not sure why I care so much about the piano, except for the fact that we do have one in our house, and it taunts me with my own failed career as a pianist, which ended at age 13 when I just could not take the pressure of performing in front of 20 whole people anymore.  That's after winning 1st prize at the Kenya Music Festival by playing the very best version of The Gollywog Leads the Band by a 9 year old in a country where few 9 year olds have even seen a piano.  What a tragic waste of talent it was when I quit.  

I hope my children avoid the same fate that no talent is left undiscovered by the time they are adults.  In the meantime, I'll be over here in the back of our minivan cooking omelets on a hotplate in between rhythmic gymnastics practice and fencing lessons.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Dog

I knew deep down that this day would come.  For one thing, Charlotte would never ever forget the vague suggestion I foolishly made to her when she was 3 that once Lawson was 4 (because I naively believed that by 4, he would be easy to handle HA HA HA!!! Hysterical), we would get a dog.  One of my truly fatal mistakes as a mother is my tendency to speak without thinking first--thinking about every consequence and angle and ways a child might manipulate and best me through my words.  A nasty side effect of extroversion.  Well, Lawson turned 4 in December (and is somehow still not a civilized human being), and Charlotte immediately cashed in.  Where's my dog????

I thought I could buy some time by explaining to Charlotte our very strict criteria for any dog that we would allow to live with us.  These would include:
-No shedding.  I do not have the mental health to handle a bunch of dog hair all over everything.
-No barking.  Because there is enough noise in our house between Lawson going ballistic over the color of his cereal bowl, among other things, and all the demon-possessed toys that live here.
-Fully potty trained.  Because, well, I'm done with that crap, literally.  But apparently not quite, because Lawson's newest psychological torture method is running around the house screaming, "I have to go potty!!!" but not actually going potty, before having an accident.  Because it would way make too much sense to actually go to the potty when you need to go potty.
-No jumping.  Because I've already herniated a disc like three times.
-No chewing up stuff.  Because I like my shoes and my Africa crap, both of which have miraculously survived this long, and I'd like to keep them.
-Not too big that he can knock a child down but not too small that a child could step on him.
-Not too energetic/not a puppy.  We are a couch potato family (except for my solo career as a marathon runner), and we need a couch potato dog.
-Easy going.  Because someone around here should be.
-Sweet and loving without being too needy.  Because I already have two obsessed stalkers.
-Cute.  Because I'm shallow.  And Lawson has proved that cute can overcome a multiplicity of personality problems.  Most of the time. But Kevin added it could not be a "fru-fru" dog, either, but rather, "It has to look like a dog." Because while he is secure in his manhood, he still has some room for improvement.
So basically, we were looking for an adorable, bald cat.  Which doesn't exist.  So I thought I we were safe.

Add to these ridiculous criteria the alpine standards of rescue organizations.  We thought rescue groups were the way to go because we could get a foster-home tested adult dog.  With shelter/pound dogs, you never know what you are going to get.  You meet them in the shelter and they are all cute and charming, then 2 weeks after you get home you find out the dog is actually pretty insane and will lose his mind if you keep getting a new glass out every time you need a drink of water instead of reusing the same one for at least a day.  Because that makes no sense, and it only creates more work and wastes resources, and I'm really not sure why a reasonable person wouldn't reuse his glass and we may have to see a marriage counselor about this if you can't correct the behavior.  Sheesh.  But I digress.  We felt like the rescue agencies could test the dogs for us, and we could be more certain of what we were getting.

But here's the thing, the mission of the rescue agencies is not to help humans find a dog.  Or really to help humans in any way.  It's all about the dogs, and they are not so much interested in whether a dog is insane as to whether the humans are insane.  And sanity, by their standards, boils down to:  Not having any small kids (I can't disagree with them there); not having a job or any interests outside the home (but yet enough money to pay for dog chemotherapy if it is required); a willingness to pay for dog chemotherapy if it is required; endless patience for dog hair, dog crap, chewing, vomiting, yelping, nocturnal behavior, and yet the ability to maintain a perfect hygienic and calm environment; the belief that humans do not actually rule the world, or shouldn't in any case (and, having gotten a close-up view of the US government, I will admit they have a point there).  In addition, you must provide vet references for any pet you have ever had in your adult life, and yes, I do want you to give me the name of the vet who euthanized your cat in 1999, and I am completely serious about that, and I will call them and quiz them about how much you cried when Murphy breathed her last.  After a few snooty rejections from these folks, I began to think it would be easier to go back to school, get a PhD in biochemistry, master genetic engineering, and make the dog I wanted in a lab than to obtain a dog, any dog, even an insane schizophrenic dog, from a rescue organization.  The good news was that this seemed to work with my goal of postponing dog ownership until Charlotte moved out of the house.  The bad news is that my little girl really, really wanted a dog, and because I am not a completely heartless mother, I did want to give her a dog.  And I was starting to kind of what a dog, too.  I had a Yorkie growing up that I absolutely adored.  Probably because I did absolutely nothing for her except scratch her belly.  My parents tell me she was a real handful.  They can be so delusional sometimes.

But then a miracle occurred, and I am being very literal here.  I was trolling one of the rescue sites for the upteenth time and I saw Chilo.  Chilo the shitzhu, yorkie, brusells griffon, schnauzer, we-aren't-really-sure mix.  From the description, it seemed he met our basic criteria, so I emailed the agency and girded myself for another rejection.  For some truly bizarre reason, someone emailed me back right away, asked a few questions, didn't ask for a bribe or anything, and set up a meeting.  Obviously this agency needs to better screen its volunteers.  So we went and met this dog, thinking this was some kind of try-out for US, and we needed to look pretty and sane and be prepared with answers to a litany of questions like, "What is your worst character trait?" and I would say something like, "I'm just too loving.  It's a real problem because last time I owned a pet, I had to quit my job because I couldn't stop petting her long enough to get ready for work.  Fortunately, I had enough in my trust fund to pay for Murphy's heart transplant and provide for her until she finally succumbed at the age of 25."  Instead, they were like, "He's a good dog, I'll be honest with you, he doesn't like other dogs. You may not be able to take him to a dog park [as if I would ever want to go to such a place].  But if you think you can handle that--When do you want to take him home?  Is now good?"

So we have Chilo, whose real name, as it turns out is Chulo, which means "cutie" in Spanish (it also means "pimp," but unless his former owners ran a prostitution ring for dogs out of their home over which Chilo/Chulo presided,  I'm guessing that was not the meaning they were going for).  The rescue organization apparently botched the spelling.  Chilo means nothing. But he answers to it, probably because if you say it in a high voice it sounds like Chulo, and Charlotte insisted that it is his name and you can't just go changing folks' names.  And I am sorry to say, there is no drama.  Yeah, I can't even manufacture any for the sake of blogging humor.  Chilo is an absolute dream.  He meets all of our criteria without being a bald cat.  And although he is still a little too cute for Kevin's liking, after some recalibration of his definitions, Kevin has decided he does look like a dog.

And he makes me feel like a good mother.  He is obedient, loving, and he doesn't go out of his way to drive me insane.  I actually enjoy caring for him because he doesn't seek to thwart me at every turn.  And he can't talk, a huge plus.  He does have unresolved squirrel issues, and I shudder to think what will happen if one of them decides to venture down from the tree where they live and mock him.   But generally speaking, we have a rare, perfect situation in this house.

I still don't know if I'm a "dog person," but I am definitely a Chilo or Chulo person (but not a pimp person, just to be clear.  I don't like pimps).