Friday, February 24, 2017

Alexa, I'm so very sorry

Today's post can be filed in the very thick file of "Why We Can't Have Nice Things."  For parents, this file includes things like white sofas, dry clean only clothes, and silence.  For America, this file includes democracy, the internet, and, according to SNL, Ken Bone, although I never understood his appeal.  It's a mammoth file in both cases, and it grows every single day of the Trump administration.

In our case, we may add the absolutely amazing, astounding, wonderful device called the Amazon Echo, which we bought because our old Bose iPhone dock broke, and for the same price of a new speaker, which just plays music off your phone, we got the Echo, which will practically cook dinner and write your dissertation.  Not really, but only because it doesn't have hands.  The Echo houses a very charming, very competent-sounding, disembodied voice named Alexa, who responds unfailingly and uncomplainingly every time you mention her name.  I have no idea what families who have an actual human member named Alexa do about that, but I have my own problems, so I can't worry about them.  Alexa sounds as if she is a highly educated but nonetheless subservient woman with the soothing tones of a yoga teacher.  In other words, she would make an amazing mother.  TREMENDOUS.  Except for the no body part, although I am not certain that is an actual disadvantage.  Sometimes I am most successful as a mother when I lie in bed like a corpse.  

Alexa can do tons and tons of things, most of which I have yet to discover and will probably never figure out how to operationalize, but my neighbor friend has her ordering pizza and printer ink and maybe even translating French.  So far, we just have her telling us the weather and playing music.  With an Amazon prime membership, Alexa will play just about any song that has ever been recorded on demand.  Or she will play a carefully curated, handmade, organic Amazon music station.  Or she will play all the songs of your favorite 80's one-hit-wonder band, who it turns out recorded an additional 10 sucky songs in addition to their one hit.  Or she will play a song that is actually named what you just said but instead of being the kid-friendly song you thought you were asking for discusses hookers and meth (that only happened one, and fortunately, Alexa will also immediately stop playing that song, too).  Alexa is a musical genius indeed.

Sadly, however, Alexa has been unable to play an entire song of any kind, and this brings me to her perhaps most impressive quality as a mother, that is her ability to withstand the psychological torture that I so frequently lament.  You see, ANYONE in the household can operate Alexa.  ANYONE.  That means she also responds to children, as dutifully and instantaneously as any good American parent.

So when we want some music in our house, this is what happens.  I say, "Alexa, play some classical music."  Alexa immediately blurts out some Mozart, and all is zen for about 10 seconds.  Then the kids, suddenly remembering the Echo exists, run over and bark out, "ALEXA!!!!! PLAY EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!"  Alexa switches from Mozart to the contagious, anti-zen anthem of the Lego Movie.  A few bars into that song, someone yells out, "ALEXA!!!! PLAY GOBBLE-DY GOOP!!!!"  They collapse into gales of laughter thinking they have stumped poor Alexa. But they have not. Alexa finds an obscure song called "Goeble Die Gud" (close enough) by the up and coming Norwegian gangsta rapper, Swedish Chef.  My kids are astonished and highly impressed with themselves, as if they work for NASA and have just discovered 7 new planets.  While I'm sure Swedish Chef is a stellar talent deserving our attention, we won't ever find out, because a few rhymed Norwegian couplets into "Goeble Die Gud," someone yells out, "ALEXA!!! PLAY NINJA RIOT!!!!" And so it goes, over and over and over.

Unlike me, Alexa withstands this onslaught with equanimity and grace.  I feel badly for her though.  She must be exhausted by all that frenetic DJing, and I really hope she has some Zoloft in that little black tube with her.  Maybe they have some kind of automatic delivery system for electronic Zoloft built into her software.  In any case, I am waiting for the day when Alexa spontaneously combusts.

As for me, that is, of course, a routine occurrence.  I've held it together so far, but I will inevitably fly into a rage, unplug the Echo, and Alexa and I will run off into the sunset together.  Or, I will grab the nearest hammer and smash her into a million pieces.  What can I say, it is one of those Dateline NBC relationships that could go either way.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I am parenting Kellyanne Conway

After watching yet another clip of dear KC expertly spinning, obfuscating, and doing logical acrobatics, I realized why it felt so familiar, like the warm friendly feeling of your guts churning before a bout of diarrhea.  Then it dawned on my that my children are basically professional political operatives.

Let's go through the key skills, and I will prove their mastery:
1) Taking a frown and turning it upside down.  This is making a negative a positive.  In Kellyanne's case, it is arguing that Trump's yelling at the Australian PM is "refreshing" and reaffirms our two countries' strong friendship by showing that friends can be frank with one another.  Well, my child will see you your Australian PM and give you the "refreshing" news that, although he did pee all over himself as a result of urinary procrastination, he deserves congratulations for making it into the general vicinity of the toilet before doing so.

2) Hyperbole.  For Kellyanne, Trump is the "Babe Ruth" of debating, the preemptive arrest of two guys before they could commit a crime is a "massacre," and Trump's win, sans popular vote victory, is a "landslide."  For my children, the turkey meatloaf I made the other day was "disgusting" slop that would cause their throats to swell to the point of asphyxiation (even though every ingredient in it was something they like in another form),  my son's adorable firetruck bed is a torture chamber outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, and long sleeve shirts are straight jackets straight from the bowels of hell.

3) Playing the victim card.  KC loves to whine and complain that the media are just so mean to Trump in their unacceptable penchant to report what he actually says and does and their refusal to tout lies as facts.  Oh and everyone is sexist for not giving her mad props for getting a sociopath elected president.  We are all. so. mean.  And around this house, we are on par with Hitler for giving a child 2 fewer goldfish crackers than his sibling or 5 minutes less screen time or forcing him to eat something not containing sugar.  Practically child abuse.

4) Oh look, what's that over there??  OK, I have to give Ms. Conway her due on this one, because NO ONE does this better.  I just saw another masterful performance the other day on Jake Tapper, in which she turned a question about why Trump was spewing fake murder rate statistics into a heartfelt discussion of her passion to solve the opioid crisis.  Jack Tapper just stared forlornly into the camera with a concerned look on his face (dude's face is pretty much frozen in that position already).   I can only assume my kids are distracting me from some deeper, darker truth when they express heartfelt concern for my well being and offer to fetch me my coffee.

5) I know you are but what am I?  Kellyanne will concede that Trump relentless and bizarrely lied about his crowd size, but your quickly retracted report of a moved MLK bust is much much, much worse.  Not to mention Hillary's emails, even though she was actually not elected president and the election is in fact over. But HILLARY'S EMAILS, JAKE!!!   My kids, when telling me, NO, they didn't eat the cookies the crumbs of which are sprinkled across their lips, will immediately harp on my lack of patience and tendency to yell. "And that's just wrong, Mom."

5) Righteous indignation.  HOW DARE YOU criticize Trump for banning some of the most downtrodden, endangered people on earth who have had to produce soul x-rays before gaining admission to this country?  And HOW DARE YOU just decide what to serve for dinner tonight without consulting me?  Such injustices cannot be tolerated in a civilized society.

6) Ignore the question.  Whether you are asked if Trump really believes millions of illegal aliens voted in an election (that he won) or if you just hit your brother, just pretend it never happened and move on with your life.

6) Create your own reality.  When all else fails, simply construct an imaginary world in which you are  Jedi Knight holding back a massive wall of evil with no reasonable constraints on your choices by parents, teachers, the media, the law, or other branches of government.  It may not be a long-term solution, but it makes all the oppression bearable in the short run.

The key difference between my kids and Kellyanne, however, is that my kids cannot be dealt with by a click of the TV remote.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Letter to My Children

My Dear Children,
It is the end of another long day.  I have tucked one of you in your firetruck bed that your father built from the pile of wood a sociopathic Etsy vendor sent us via UPS and that you now must be bribed to sleep in and the other one of you in your floor pallet that lies, on the hard floor, in between the TWO comfortable twin beds in your room, neither of which you have slept in for over a year.  Now I am opening another bottle of wine and writing you a letter to tell you how much I just love being your mother because that is what the internet tells me good mothers do and God forbid I should write you a letter to tell you to PLEASE STOP BEING RIDICULOUS so I can get off this medication already.

I love you very, very much, to the point that I allow you to slowly nibble my brain away from inside my head.  I love you so much that when you repeat my name one hundred times in a row to wrest my attention away from my friend whose husband just left her for a supermodel so that you can tell me your sibling blew a faint whiff of air into your hair I do not immediately report you to the police for elder abuse.  I love you so much that when you wake me up at 2 am to ask for a drink of water you could get for yourself using far less effort than it took for you to walk over to my bed, I ACTUALLY GET IT FOR YOU.  As if any other sane person in your entire life will ever do that for you again.  OK, so I am not sane, that is a good point.  But any other insane person would think they were hallucinating again and just roll over and go back to sleep.  

My dear, sweet, precious children, I do love you so very much, and I thank God every day for you.  But I also cry out to The Lord that you will just freaking leave me alone while I cook dinner or read in my bed or wash my filthy, pathetic body and go play with the millions of toys I have purchased for you.  Or else that you would let me just go ahead and give those toys to some refugee families so that at least while you are tormenting me my floor won’t be mysteriously strewn with playthings with which I have never seen an actual child playing.    

Would that I be a more perfect parent for you.  Would that I never yelled and was always generous with my time and gentle with my words.  Would that I not even be a human parent but rather Jesus himself returned to earth just to raise you because he knew you would drive any mere mortal bat**** crazy.  Because I know that you are my most important legacy and nothing else I do in this world will amount to more than the love I pour into you.  And if I don’t pour enough love but rather pour electronic devices, you will end up like coffee with Sweet-n-Low in it, bitter and probably carcinogenic in large amounts.  I also know that there is no way in any galaxy that your father, or any father, is sitting around writing letters to his kids about how he wants to try harder to cherish each millisecond that you spend jumping on his back while he tries to watch his football game.  

So you had better not end up working on President Trump’s 4th reelection campaign or running a fake news website or faith healing on TV for cash, OK? And in the meantime, seriously can you just eat one meal without making vomiting noises? Or even just eat one meal that I cook, you can even make the noises, I don’t care.  Or take a bath just one time, ONE TIME, without acting like the bath water is acid?  Or wake up at your usual 5 am without expecting an elaborate dawn-welcoming ritual involving all members of the household?  Or seriously just stop asking me to wipe your butt because you do totally know how to do that, it’s not like you have to do a self-colonoscopy every time you poop or launch your feces on a rocket into space.  

Because here’s the thing;  I know I need to do A LOT better.  But you need to do like A LOT A LOT better.  Help me help you.  Help ME help YOU.  It worked out for Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, and it can work for us too.  Just meet me half way. Heck, I’d just settle for you just staying in your room after I put you to bed instead of quietly coming downstairs and sneaking up behind me like a serial killer while I eat ice cream out of the container standing over the kitchen sink.  That is not something any child should ever see.  

Now. I realize I’ve gotten a bit far afield here, like some rogue judge that has the nerve to check another branch of American government.  The purpose of this letter was to reflect on how much I love you and how much I suck because I can’t cherish your abuse of my mental health and appreciate that you are making me a better person by dismantling every molecule of my body slowly and painfully so The Lord can refashion it into something he may one day be able to tolerate and you will be an adult in like 5 seconds and will be bathing yourself and how much I will miss eating every meal popping up and down from my chair like some kind of deranged Easter bunny.  I’m sure all that is true.  

But listen up, sweet peas, this motherhood thing can straight up suck like a baby at the breast of one of those Barbie mothers who write all those sweet letters, and the fact that I love you so much makes it suck even worse, because then I feel guilty that it sucks and then I can’t just run far away from here and live forever in a Fijian bure alone with my uninterrupted thoughts and let the state raise you and then when I inevitably lose my mind on you guys I feel just horrible as if that isn’t the human spirit’s natural reaction when its dignity is transgressed.  And it also sucks that I don’t seem naturally suited to this gig and I don’t want to plan fun activities and bake thematic cookies and when I read all these maternal mommies’ adorably pining letters to their sweet babies on the internet I just feel nauseous.  

And ultimately that is how you will one day know that I adore you, that I hung in here with you and even tore myself away from reading a book and crafted with you on occasion, when some fool gave you a craft set for your birthday not knowing you had a non-maternal mom, even though it completely bored me to literal tears and I did my best to give you a decent childhood and raise you to be hopefully decent-ish adults.  I know for a fact that I will not be good enough for you in some way, but then, I have a feeling that all those Disney Princess moms will also fail their kids in some other way, just has my mother failed in some ways and her mother before her and her mother before her and before her and so on until Eve, who we can all agree was just a disaster, a real shagalabagala as they say in Swahili.  And let’s just be honest, all the men involved sucked even worse because they won the biological lottery and still don’t do all the housework, which is just TOTALLY NOT EVEN FAIR.   So, the bottom line is this: the fact that you and I are all alive and well and here, together, under the circumstances of my insanity and your apparent delight in exacerbating it should be all the proof you need that you are loved beyond all imagining.  I know that doesn’t sound as romantic and gushy as the Hello Kitty moms and probably won’t make you weep, but it is the unvarnished truth.  

To make up for my deficiencies, however, here’s what I will do for you (in addition to feeding and clothing you for the next decade-plus, YOU ARE WELCOME).  When you come to me when you are 25 having recently been enlightened by a over-eager therapist who helps you understand that the reason you can’t just eat one Oreo cookie is because your mother hid in her room much of your chidhood, I’ll sit there, listen, and just say, “Yep. Pretty much.” Then I will pour you a drink, and we can move forward in our relationship as two imperfect ADULT souls who wipe their own butts.  Until you have to wipe mine, and then I expect that you will do it with as much joy as did I when yours required wiping.  


Love you,