Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Post Traumatic Standardized Testing Stress

I knew it was a bad sign that, as I sat in the waiting room for my impending test, I could not remember what GRE stands for.

I suppose the rain this morning set the tone for doom. Of course I wore my flip flops to the event, accompanied by my yoga pants that I never have used for yoga, and my hoodie sweatshirt proclaiming my love of beer—casual, everyday comfort. When one embarks on a journey into standardized testing one must first feel comfortable from head to toe, and I, having lost my mind in many ways, decided I needed to take the GRE (again) because an MFA wasn’t quite enough. Perhaps a PhD? Why not? Now I know better.

The first thing you must know is that this test occurred at 8am. I left my house at 7am. I awoke at 5am to make sure that my coffee intake was sufficient. It wasn’t. The waiting room was lit by thousands of watts of fluorescent buzzing. They make you sign away your life so that you won’t repeat questions you read during the test. You copy in your best handwriting an entire paragraph, almost like the ancient punishment of copying sentences on the blackboard, “I will not repeat these test questions. . .” And then you sit and wait with your photo I.D. in your hand. Since you are not allowed to take anything into the test, especially your electronic devices, there is no quick game of Angry Birds to play, no bookmarked page to read, just the ID and the paper, which you should have already read and copied.

I sat and studied the intricacies of my driver’s license as if it were a foreign thing, a foreign person staring out from the tiny box on the front. Who is that woman? Face puffed out with seven months of pregnancy, never ending straight, flat hair, fancy earbobs peeking out from the strands. It says that she weighs 145lbs, is 5’7”, and has hazel eyes. I have certainly never met that girl, for I haven’t weighed as much since before both of my children were born, nor have I ever quite measured that extra inch. As for my eyes, well, they are mostly brown and a little bit green. What compels us to lie so blatantly on our driver’s license, and how important is the accuracy? In the top right corner I have a tiny heart next to the word donor, and for those few silent buzzing moments I considered which organs would be useful to someone if I were to die in a car accident on the way home.

They pat you down before you go in. “Empty your pockets,” they say. “Roll up your sleeves,” they say. “Show me your ankles.” And this last one was particularly embarrassing because underneath my recreational yoga pants was the stubble of all the weeks since I last cared about what my legs looked like out in public (which is a considerable amount). And after all the pulling out of pockets and pant legs, then the wand—which I always makes me nervous it will go off and I won’t know why. I felt like I was walking into a court room rather than a tiny blank space filled with computer cubicles.

And then, the test. Did you prepare? you ask. Did you spend $35 on one of those study books with the attached computer program so you could practice at regular intervals for at least six weeks prior to your test? you ask. Of course I bought the book and the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but not the road to a doctorate. I did use the program for the vocabulary matching game, which was fun because I almost always got 100%. But, as it turns out, they don’t have the cute vocabulary matching game on the actual GRE. And, as it turns out, the language is so incredibly dry and grandiloquent that it takes twice as long to comprehend. I am convinced they find the most superfluous and poorly written sentences to fill in the blank. I know that I gagged a couple times.

After all this madness I have learned a couple of valuable lessons. The first is that I am an adult now, and by definition I should never, ever, have to solve for x, y, or any other random alphabetical variable. I should never have to find the sine, cosine, or curve equation for x, and y on a plane. Calculating percentages is right out, unless I am figuring out a tip average. These are things that define me as an adult: the right to never do algebra again.
The second priceless nugget of truth I gleaned was that I don’t think I want to get my PhD. It is possible that I don’t have quite enough stamina for the rigorous academic schedule. I would like to teach, I will never stop learning, but it is not worth losing my hair and gaining twenty pounds for, which would certainly happen if I had to devote all my free time into finding childcare. Now is not the time. I will stay here and continue to peddle my complaints via this blog.

I did remember what GRE stands for, later that afternoon as I explained to my little Thing One on her way home from kindergarten. She asked, “What does requisite mean?” and then I had an aneurysm.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Didn't Your Mother Tell You Not To Suck Helium?!

Since turning thirty I have continued on my reckless path of doing questionable to stupid things. Like this evening, when I sucked up all the helium.

Perhaps you remember the birthday balloon and it’s five dollars worth of helium. The one I was so excited to receive as a token, as a gesture—the balloon itself was a free for all for little kid squabbles. I have spent the past three weeks untangling the balloon string from around hands, necks, and toes. It has given Thing One and Thing Two a new found passion for “teasing” (that would be Thing One having it, and Thing Two wanting it). Too many times I have hidden that balloon in my closet only to find it floating along in the kitchen ten minutes later, all happy smiles and birthday tinsel.

You may wonder, why doesn’t she just deflate the balloon? Yes, I asked myself that question many times. Five dollars worth of helium is like a giant three foot sphere. This is the kind of helium balloon that, given a giant bouquet of these balloons, could float a person away. It was impressive and I sort of didn’t want to spoil the awesome largeness, no matter how annoying it was. Then this evening it occurred to me that I had the perfect opportunity to show my daughter the “trick.” You must know what I am talking about. That thing your older brother showed you how to do when you were 4 years old, stealing your prized possession and sucking the helium out, only to make you laugh hysterically at his Chipmunk rendition of “Grandma Got Runover By a Reindeer” or something else equally absurd and age inappropriate. Everyone has their own version of this story, I am sure of it.

Tonight I took the enormous, shiny, floating orb that was blocking out the ceiling lights in my living room and asked Thing One if she wanted to see something cool. She had to take a break from her inventory of Princess lip glosses, but she was game. I punched a little hole in the bottom and took a nice deep breath, and suddenly I was possessed by an elf. Thing One wasn’t too impressed yet. I had to try again so she could really get it. More sucking in the air, and then, a song: Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Still, the kid was not totally impressed, although she was laughing. So, a little more helium (and I must tell you, there was still a lot left) and I whipped out the Chipmunk ABC song, and then she finally thought it was funny. I know this because she said, “My mom is so funny!”

But then I had to stop. I started to feel, uh, a little weird. I’m pretty sure the helium quantity of the balloons we pillaged as kids was slightly lower. There was never a point in time that one person sucked in that much helium for the sake of entertainment. Let’s just say, it’s been about an hour and I’m still flying kites over here in my living room.
If someone would have told me an hour ago that helium would make my brain float for a while, I wouldn’t have listened to them, but I am telling you now, it’s not worth it. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Idea of Ice Cream

This is a piece that was 86'd from my thesis. My mentor [hated]it, so I took it out. But, as I am completely blank this evening I will post it here with all of its uncomfortable metaphors, and with the knowledge that "it wasn't quite there yet." (But, I always kind of liked it the way it is).

Dear Children,

What I have to offer you is not real. I may say that we will get ice cream, but it is the idea of ice cream that you love. The sea green paint color of mint, the pink pearl of strawberry, the creamy drops of vanilla dotted with hints of chocolate chips, or better yet—the polka dots of M&Ms, their shellacked candy shells bleeding out into the stew of it. It is the idea of the ice cream that you love, which is why I do not bother to get you ice cream.
I will offer you many of these suggestions in the course of a day to keep excitement levels high and drive away boredom. Most of these carefully hinted at plans will never come to fruition, or if they do, like the trip to the library, the outing to the zoo, they are an utter disappointment. Someone assuredly falls on his or her head, or in the end does not have the perfect experience that the excursion promised in theory. It is the anticipation that makes the excitement. It is the idea of ice cream that makes it taste so good.
I wonder how old you will be when you start to recognize this behavior of mine as broken promises. These magical whims we have, where I take you to impossible places, and plant notions of glossy maraschinos and bananas drowning in chocolate sauce. When will the day arrive that you notice that there is no ice cream?
Last week was our first visit to the ice cream truck. It was a coincidence that we had four dollar bills at the same time. We were at the beach. The tinny, music box sound of Popsicle Joe was warning siren to all the children. The sound even I was condition to chase after at the first echo, clutching my coins and running after the truck if that’s what it took. I wanted that for both of you, too. So this time we got ice cream.
Son, I carried you on my hip. Daughter, you held my hand, and between our clammy, lake-pruned palms rests the money that we can barely spare. We walked to the back of the truck, music still blasting The Entertainer so loud the pitch is almost distorted (it is the idea of a song, the ostentatious projections, not the song itself that makes it exciting). Anna, you pointed at what looked best: a Drumstick. A dipped cone covered in peanuts. A classic. You get one for yourself, one for your little brother who is begging. I paid, received seventy-five cents change in frozen quarters.
We walked back to the beach towels and each of you ate off every piece of chocolate, sucked out the milkshake-like drops coming from the hole in the bottom of the cone, then someone suggests swimming. With the suggestion of jumping into the freezing, duck filled lake you both chuck your ice cream into the dirty ashtray ground of the public beach, racing to the water, flapping your puddle jumper and pink water wings. But, like the ice cream, it is the idea of swimming. As you shiver in the waves it is the idea of home, of the bath tub, of fuzzy sleepers, that you will protest. You will fight off home for as long as you can until I carry you away, and you are finally warm in your pajamas, snuggled on my lap the same way we do it every night, the way neither of us could end a day without.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Don't Judge Your Neighbors By The Dead Cars In Their Driveway

There are two houses next to ours that are for sale. One across the street, recently sold, however, I’ve yet to see a new neighbor appear. The house next door to ours has been on the market for a few months and we’ve heard that it has had zero offers.

We rent our house. It is the size of a very rich person’s closet. Things are falling apart. I mean literally, two Thanksgivings ago the kitchen ceiling caved in due to a leak in the roof. Half of the house is sinking so our door frame has sort of a strange tilt to it. I won’t even start about the raccoons that died underneath the house, or again, with the birds that have recently hatched in the attic.

But, that is our house. There’s nothing wrong with the houses around ours (that I can see). The one across the street was for sale for almost two years. They completely remodeled it before they moved out. Had trees cut down in the yard, replaced major appliances, etc. The same goes for the house next door, which is a little small but has a beautiful yard and the addition of new siding gave the house a revitalized “curb appeal.”

I’ve started to take things personally. There must be something wrong with us as neighbors. True, we aren’t much at landscaping. At different points in time the front yard could have a two foot tall blanket of dandelions covering not only the lawn and the “not lawn,” which I guess is where we would put beauty bark if we had such notions, but the dandelions also add a nice covering to our gravel driveway, leaving to strips where we pull the car in and out.

Speaking of cars, we had one sitting in the driveway for three years. It was a giant burgundy 1987 Oldsmobile with 57,000 miles on it, which we lovingly called “Big Pimpin’” for reasons that seemed very obvious when looking at the car. We inherited Big Pimpin’ from my grandparents at one of those difficult points in time between blowing up Subarus. Thing One had just been born and I was still a little worried about taking the bus everywhere with an infant. My grandma signed over the title to me for nothing more than the license fee, which was $25. It was a great car until the transmission blew up a few months later and it sat in our driveway untouched and turning green with moss until the day I finally donated it to the first people who would come and take it away for free.

We looked slightly less white trash after that. I’m sure all the neighbors applauded as they saw their property values visibly shifting upward, but then we decided to get a second car. My husband found a bright blue, 1976 Ford F-250. The same car he and his dad drove around in back on his farm. Not exactly ideal for the city, but it was in our price range, which was about as big as the space between the two numbers. The truck is pretty cool. It drives fast, it a novelty for the kids, who love to go outside and use it as their own personal jungle gym, but it is a little bit loud compared to our Prius and Mini-Cooper driving neighbors. Not to mention, the truck sometimes has troubles. . . and by troubles I mean it sounds like choking death, and then screeching and sputtering. All the sounds that cars make that cause a person to cringe. I can hear the truck from around the block as my husband drives home at night, and sometimes even when he turns the truck off it sounds like it just barely made it. Yet, it somehow keeps going.

I think about these two cars, added to the current green Subaru (Yes that color green. The original green that everyone in Seattle drives causing me to almost break into someone else’s car at least once a week), the Subaru with breaks that squeal like a piccolo when you back out of the driveway, and the serpentine belt that sounds like your squeezing a cat to death every time you turn the steering wheel; I think about these little additions to our falling apart cardboard façade of a house, and wonder if maybe we aren’t the real reason why we don’t have any neighbors.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Five Dollars Worth of Helium Happy Birthday

As every person reading this probably knows, I turned 30 yesterday.

I did not go sing karaoke as I had planned for the last half of my 20’s. Nor did I make it to the park to play Frisbee, as I had planned since the last part of last week. I did not get to a coffee shop to sit and sulk, alone, as I had relished doing on my 29th birthday. I did not have an impromptu BBQ, given by my husband only to have him be reminded by our guests that it was my birthday (and I should say he has never forgotten since then). I did not make a tour of bars in Tacoma, ending in a colorful array of shots and a game of ping pong, as I had done on my 21st. I did not have a skating party at the Skate Deck, with the private party room that smelled of popcorn and shoe spray, as I had for my 8th birthday. It probably doesn’t count as a slumber party, since I am married and always share the bed, and rarely do we have pillow fights, so it was nothing like my 10th or 11th birthdays, either. I did not get my driver’s license, like at 16. I did not dress up and eat dinner at The Palisades or El Gaucho, like I did at 17 and 23. I didn’t have a brand new baby to take care of like I did for my 25th and 28th birthdays, respectively. It was probably a lot like my 18th or 20th birthdays, since I have no recollection of either of these significant years.

Perhaps yesterday will be memorable for several reasons, not the least of these being that I actually made it to 30. The Rapture contained itself, the world as we know it did not end in flames and damnation, and I got to finish out my 20s, thank you very much, God.

The second greatest moment was waking up to a giant balloon. Not just a mylar-helium Happy Birthday, this was the big one. My husband said that there was at least $5 worth of helium holding this up in the air. If I had been turning 3 instead of 30 I may have carried it around with me everywhere I went—for the rest of the week.

More exciting than the balloon, the bouquet of flowers, the subsequent mimosa after my husband finally woke up, was the excitement in my children’s faces and exclamations when they realized that it was my birthday. There was no need for me to get all worked up because both kids ran around the house jumping for joy, as if it were really the most fantastic holiday, better than Christmas. Each one wishing me Happy Birthday sporadically throughout the day, including hugs, and sometimes a song. There is no way karaoke can compare to a two-year-old singing you happy birthday, then helping you blow out your candles—twice (I relit them because I am a grown up and I am allowed to use a lighter if I want).

I began my day with a giant balloon, later rode the bus (for fun) to the UW Street Fair with my daughter, who was heartbroken when I tried to go to the library by myself and do some “work” on my special day. But, we ate kettle corn, had a slushie, some 17 year old kid in clown pants made us an awkward balloon creation, and we dodged weirdos together all afternoon. Who could ask for more than that?

Then my husband and Thing Two picked us up in the Subaru and we headed to my mom’s house for the most amazing dinner of Black Cod, my favorite roasted corn and avocado salad, clilantro lime rice, and a gluten free chocolate cake that my mother adorned with the traditional flaming 3-0. I drank wine, but not too much. Ate a lot of great food. Saw my family. Went home. Watched The Killing, (which, as a side note, I was slightly perturbed by the scenes of the Public Market, whereby the perpetrator is spotted at the bottom of the escalator in what looks like a mall, not the Pike Place Market I’m used to). It was an excellent birthday. When you plan nothing you will always be surprised.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bug Eyed Baby Bird Chorus

I know very little about birds: They lay eggs, they hatch. Birds fly around in the sky in various shapes, sizes, and flight patterns. Some birds hunt. Some pick worms out on the lawn. Some eat garbage. Each bird has its own distinct call.

There are a few things I have heard about birds, but don’t know if they are true: Once a baby bird is touched by a human it will be disowned. Birds go to sleep when it is dark. Crows can recognize and remember human faces. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

It was very early in the morning a couple weeks ago I heard the unmistakable scratch and peck of a bird’s talons and beak hard at work somewhere under the eaves and above my bedroom window. I have heard birds up there before, but this was continuous, and happening again the next morning, and the next. I didn’t think to cause a scene. I am not bothered by birds, nor do I have any particular affinity to them. I don’t have a bird feeder, although in the summertime there are enough fishy crackers thrown around the yard to attract more than a couple of crows. This bird above my window was much smaller, a benign species with nothing threatening about it. I caught a flutter of wing and tail as this bird disappeared into a hole somewhere above my car port and my bedroom, he seemed small enough.

And then the chorus began. Early. Dawn cracking early. I awoke to the peeps and squawks of a nest of freshly hatched chicks. All I could imagine as I rolled around in my bed at 5am was the vision of the nest right above my head with a hand full of tiny baby birds, all fuzzy and disgusting, their eyes bugging out, their red beaks stuck open, and wide enough so that you can actually see inside to their guts, as if they were opened like a little coin purse. And they cry. All morning and afternoon crying in spurts, just like a human baby. I hear them up there when I am putting away laundry, and have this same vision, the birdie gullet waiting for the regurgitated worm.

I am annoyed, but in more of a way like I have a loud tenant living in the apartment above me. I haven’t resorted to banging on the ceiling with a broom handle just yet, as if this might really give those birds something to think about. I just hear them and thank the heavens that they will at least be quiet all the way through the night, which is more than my babies could do at that age. I have considered naming them, but in order for that to happen I have to actually go into the attic and witness this blessed brood in their nest, count heads, and then decide if I want boys or girls. But I won’t, because, as my kids have reassured me, only Dads go into the attic. I’m off the hook.

Thing One seems rather excited that we have baby birds. When she and I sit on my bed at night to read a story we can hear them. Every day the sound gets much closer to a scream than the high frequency peep one would imagine a baby bird to make. I think that the picture Thing One has in her head about these tiny birds is much different from mine. Most likely they are some incredible shade of purple, they are perfectly proportioned and symmetrical, and in every way exactly like those birds that fly in and wake up Cinderella in the Disney movie, complete with bed making and improvised showering skills.

It has been almost a week now. My husband is confident that, at some point, the birds will learn to fly out. The next day he also mentioned he that he should go up there and “do something about those birds.” So, I’m not really sure if this is a temporary residence for the flock, or if we are going to have to share the mailbox with the new upstairs neighbors. I am hoping for the former. This little house is pretty crowded as it is.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Despite the Cracks, There Will Be Flowers

Here are some happy thoughts for the day:

The sun was out.

It was Margarita:30 around dinnertime, and I managed to finish one before I had to flee the Mexican restaurant with my rambunctious 2-year-old.

My mother bought flowers for me, and I planted them in pots to decorate my back patio; the patio with the giant weed-filled crack running diagonally across; the patio that is usually overrun with tiny plastic replicas of cars, naked and dead Barbie dolls, buckets of various shapes, sizes, colors, and in various stages of disintegration; the patio with the green plastic chairs that were given to us the week we moved in by the Peterson’s across the street as they moved out, and into a retirement home. The chairs each have three holes drilled in the seat, probably by Mr. Peterson himself back in the early 90’s, and some of them have the armrests glued back on with some kind of mismatched brown putty.

The flowers add a certain element to this backyard scene. Today we planted my fiberglass decoratives with purple Petunias, white Lobelia Regatta (which I learned this afternoon means hanging, as opposed to upright), and right in the middle I placed a giant yellow Snapdragon because they are my favorite. I am also partial to Dahlias of any sort because they remind me of a psychedelic, medieval mace, the spiked petals forming a perfect sphere at the top of their long stalks. I like the red ones. If I am lucky some from last year will sprout up, but I am almost certain I saw a squirrel make off with the bulbs sometime last fall.

It is an amazing feat, bringing the back yard to life after the winter. The lawn is still filled with deep divots from the year we had a giant poplar tree cut down. Each time the chainsaw finished a section it would drop down on to the soggy November lawn leaving little reminders. As if we could forget the tallest tree in the neighborhood; the tree that shot branches off like spears every time the wind blew, sometimes sticking so far into the ground and so perfectly straight they could be mistaken for new growth. The stump is still there, as are a few large cross sections that were too big to hack to bits with the axe. All of this rests in a pile that is covered with 4 years of giant zombie weeds that die and come back to life, bigger every year. It has become its own special garden that needs no tending, and every once in a while we offer up gifts to the stump gods in the form of a rotten potato or some half eaten sandwiches. Most of the rest of that enormous poplar tree has been burned in the backyard fire pit, on some of those summer nights I remember from the past when my pots were planted and full, and the patio seemed inviting despite the crack, the toys, the chairs that could fall apart at any moment. Despite, despite.

My mother-in-law is somewhat of a master gardener. As a teacher she has unlimited amounts of time in the summer to tend her flowers, and her gardens are indescriblably beautiful and inviting. If I could sit outside on her patio all summer long with a book in one hand, celebrating Margarita:30 in the other it would be heaven. My pots this afternoon look a little like a kid’s crayon drawing compared to her Monet, but there is something about the garden that makes everything seem nice, contemplative—comfortable.

So each one of my black pots has a circle of flowers now that have yet to reach their potential, but I’m sure it’s going to be good, assuming I remember to water them, and in hopes that Thing Two doesn’t decide to pick off every leaf and petal, presenting them to me as “gifts.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm Not A Hoarder, I'm Just Really Tired All The Time

I am running out of topics off hand. I would like to say that every day is inspiring, but it is not true, and any person who has a mostly new and inspiring day every day is probably making things up—which is its own skill entirely.

Luckily, I have been saving a small list of topics for just this occasion, least of all those topics being THE SUN IS OUT! And Why are things better in a tent? But I did not choose either one of those today. If anyone would like to chime in on why things are better in a tent, I am open to interpretations.

What I am really struggling with this evening, looking at the infinite amounts of birthday gifts my children have strewn about the living room, is why can’t I organize anything—ever.

In my house there are piles of clothes everywhere. The closet in reserved for all the clothes I never wear, but can’t seem to part with, no matter what size. The Coca Cola t-shirt I wore every other day from eighth grade until I graduated from college, hangs there, thread bare and unseen for years. I can’t wear the shirt anymore because it is virtually translucent, but I remember how cool I thought it was, wearing the Coke shirt before they came into fashion and they started selling them at Target. I pretty sure there is a suit in there that is a size four (A size I don't believe I ever was). My dad bought it for me in high school when I joined the Youth Legislature for one whole session. I’m not entirely sure whether I joined to get the suit, or to go on the extended over night field trip to Olympia, but I am positive it was not because I was at all interested in politics. There are also 75 pairs of shoes. 45 are heels I probably have nothing to wear with, 30 are a mismatched assortment of boots, slippers, decrepit flip flops, and 3 generations of running shoes.

If it is at all possible to describe my desk, it would have to be that it is not a functional desk like someone would have who has lofty goals of getting work done at home, or keeping a functioning filing system of important papers, receipts, ledgers of such financial importance that I wouldn’t even understand it if I did have investments (I have a sordid relationship with math). The moment I go through my piles, clear off enough space for my computer, dust off the picture of my husband and me that I placed with good intentions next to the desk lamp, that is the moment that the clean space becomes a free for all for any junk that looks like it may be “important”. Sometimes I like to save important mail because it makes me feel better, like I may need it someday, but I know that I will never look at it again until the next time I steam roller it from my desk into a garbage bag.

We have a wealth of extra appliances, gadgets, several sets of dishes, pots, frying pans, spatulas all stashed throughout the kitchen. Sometimes I wonder where to put the actual food. Never rmind about my collection of canned soup that we will never eat unless the apocalypse comes next week. My husband does his best to keep the kitchen clean, and if it weren’t for me having to feed my kids three or twenty times a day, and then not having the energy to clean it all up, the kitchen would likely stay that way.
I am not a hoarder, although I read an interesting essay this afternoon that made me question such things. I keep discarding crap. I have little attachment these days to the stuff of years gone by. It is the children I must blame for this, some day they will curse me right back, I am sure, but tonight I can say that I am so tired of toys, and the more tired I am, the less I can do.

This evening when I asked Thing One why she didn’t like to play in her room she said, “Because there are too many toys in there.” Obviously. I immediately got out three garbage bags: one for forgotten toys, one for outgrown clothing, and one for actual garbage. I made it through two toy drawers, packed all the bags with their respective fillings, and still there was so much more. When one thinks of Spring cleaning a house it doesn’t even begin to cover ours.

I need to put myself on the three week plan, get it all out of here. I have to find the extra time in the day to do all of this cleaning that seems so important, but where is that time? Is that the time that I use to read for school? Is it the time I spend wrangling my kids through the grocery store? Certainly not the time that I’m at work, that is its own special time. Perhaps it’s right now, while I am sitting in my chair (not at a desk) whisking away all the complaints I can think of about my own mess, and sharing them with the entire world. This would probably be the only time I can think of.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Three Dreadlocks and the Detangling Spray

It was my weekly (or bi-weekly) day to brush Thing One’s hair. She has that long, fine, golden little girl hair that curls at the ends like the ribbon on a birthday present. It is also sticky as spider’s web and every night she goes to sleep and magically wakes up with three long dreadlocks on the back of her head.

When this weekly brushing occurs, my daughter immediately runs—and screams. I make my token groaning sound and stomp around the house looking for both brush and detangler, which are inevitably in two different places; one of those places usually ends up being the kitchen floor for some reason. We then sit together on the floor and I start with the little blonde threads at the bottom, working the bristles on the brush up toward the really nasty tangles. There is a running commentary of “Ouch! Mom, you are moving my head!” Which is her weird way of saying that I am pulling her hair. I then respond with, “If you would just let me brush your hair every day it wouldn’t get this bad!” followed by “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m almost done.” But I’m never “almost” done. Combing Thing One’s hair is like unknitting a sweater. There is no meter to gauge which one of us hates this task more.

What never occurred to me before Thing One started preschool was that other mothers don’t endure the torture that is the detangling of kid hair. The other girls in Thing One’s class all have adorable little bobs, or hair that is just long enough to make a cute pony tail, but not long enough to strangle her while sleeping. These girls have smarter mothers than Thing One. They take their kids in for haircuts at regular intervals.

My daughter’s first haircut was this year, at age four and a half. Her first professional haircut, anyway. When she was two and her curls were just becoming a little more than fuzz and branching out below her neckline she had her very first tangle. It was one of those terrible knots that becomes a little ball, not even the finest pick comb can get through it. I had no patience to sit and whittle away at the knot, and she would have never let me, so I snipped it out, pruned it like a stray vine. Later that year when her hair started to look less like baby down and more like a little kid’s messy frizz, I could see the spot on the back of her head where some of the hair was much shorter than the rest.

For a long time Thing One didn’t want a haircut because she was certain that it would hurt. Not just hurt like brushing, but she was under the impression that cutting her hair would be the same as cutting off her pinky toe. We never discussed the logistics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had thought that a hair cut involved bleeding. I finally convinced her after four years to let me give her a little trim at home—not my specialty, as I mentioned—but her hair had grown well past her tiny shoulder blades, and the curls at the bottom made her hair look uneven anyway. I cut off an inch and she looked exactly the same.

Every time I brush her hair now and she cries and cries, I always offer up the haircut as an option. I would be happy to get the hair cut off, I would be happy to not go through the awful brushing routine, making her so unhappy. But she always says no, and I always think to myself: You would never cut all her hair off. First, because her hair is beautiful, she my beautiful little ladybug; second, I’m too lazy and too cheap to get an appointment at a salon. I haven’t even had my own hair cut for almost two years.

So, this process of waiting and waiting until the dreadlocks are so fat I can hardly find a strand to start with will continue, and I will pull and pick at all the tangles; she will cry. Eventually she will grow up, and perhaps someday she will have a daughter of her own to comb through. She will endure the torture because she will remember how her mother used to do this to her when she was little, just the way mine did to me. And someday she will cut it off and miss how long her hair used to be, not realizing just how long it takes to grow back.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Favorite Text Conversation Ever

On my way home from seeing David Sedaris last night I texted my mother, who was babysitting, and here is what the conversation looked like on my iPhone:

Me: On our way home. Have you been watching the news?

Mom: No. Watching movie. What’s going on?
You need milk.

Me: We’ll get some. Osama Bin Laden was
killed by the US. Big News.

Mom: Wow. Great news.

Me: We’ll be home after we get milk.

Mom: Ok. Still watching movie.

(Sorry Mom, it was too funny. I had to share. . .)

I Could Almost See David Sedaris at Benaroya Hall

David Sedaris gave a reading at Benaroya Hall here in Seattle last night. I was sitting in the third row from the ceiling, in front of the lady with the loud chortle and inappropriate candy wrapper crinkling, and next to my husband and some of our closest friends. Down, down, down, at the tiny podium on the stage stood Mr. Sedaris, from my vantage point a mere man shaped spot in the middle of the blonde, blank wood flooring. If I leaned my head one way or the other I could almost make out the person toward the edge of the stage translating the pieces in sign language, but more frequently than a person would think at an expensive show at a concert hall, the people in that row would get up and squeeze past each other, knocking knees and saying excuse me, adding a comic shadow puppet element to my viewing experience. But one doesn’t go to see David Sedaris, one goes for the listening experience, in hopes that he will give just a little peek at something never before seen, or perhaps a revision of an old favorite. On all these points he succeeded to impress me.

Something that I found very humbling about the performance came toward the end during the question and answer section. Mr. Sedaris had just finished talking about one of his favorite Tobias Wolff books, The Barracks Thief, a book about a small group of guys about to be shipped out to Vietnam. He commented on the slender page count (100 total) and how, although it may be fairly short, still counts as reading an entire book, and is thereby impressive. A woman down in the pit of somewhere below, asked a question I couldn’t quite hear, except she said the word “spare.” I think maybe she was asking why all the books Sedaris recommends or loves are quite “spare,” and it was unclear to both Sedaris and to me at that moment whether she meant precise, succinct prose, or if she was referring to the shortness of page numbers. In the end it didn’t matter because his answer was somewhere in the realm of: I don’t like to torture myself with wordy, lengthy, boring things just I am supposed to think it is amazing. This is, of course, my crude interpretation, but I felt like he had suddenly given me permission to stop feeling guilty about not reading and loving (or even understanding) ancient classical literature, or even just the books that use more words than I have the patience to pay attention to. This doesn’t exactly speak well for me as an intellectual, but there is a certain amount of input a person must do for his or her craft, but that doesn’t mean this exentive "learning" isn’t sometimes torturous. I like that he gave me permission to feel that way, because I already did.

Having finished my nice little book that counts as my master’s thesis, I now have a small body of work that will go out into the world in a very small way, but it is significant to me because I can now say that I am a grown up writer. What I choose to do with that self proclamation will define whether this is true. Listening to Sedaris go through his essays, causing the audience to snort and gafaw at moments, and at other moments let out audible “awww” sounds. He was funny, as expected. His pieces had depth, interesting narrative. I envy the way he uses dialogue because I can never recreate a conversation and make it mean something. I was also acutely aware, for the first time, of the way each one of his essays was structured. I could tell certain points that were rough. I could hear places where I would have made changes. It was an awful feeling, and it was amazing. It was like listening to someone play a symphony and be able to see the notation in my head. It was like holding a slab of raw meat in my hand and knowing that it weighs exactly three quarters of a pound. It wasn’t as if I was right about any of the running commentary in my head, the idea was merely that I could have an opinion about the writing on that level at all which impressed me.

After that moment of reckoning in the theater, enjoying Sedaris reading hilarious pages from his diary, I realized that I still have a very long way to go.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The One Where I Discuss My Irrational Fear of Slugs

There aren’t many things that truly horrify me. I can watch disgusting films where people are disemboweled, I have gotten over the grossness of bodily functions after the first time I was peed on, barfed on, and I still have to change diapers on a daily basis. Sometimes a child will hand me food that has been half chewed because he or she doesn’t like it. If there is nowhere else to put this wad of pickle, or candy, or sandwich, sometimes I just eat it. The only thing in the world that creeps me out—I mean really makes my skin crawl—are slugs. Yes, I live in the Pacific Northwest. This isn’t exactly the optimal location for a person with an irrational fear of slimy gastropods.

When I was a kid we used to go for walks on the nature trail near my house and every time I saw a giant spotted yellow banana slug I would scream like someone had just been murdered right in front of me. I couldn’t jump over it, walk around it. I would stand petrified until my mother would talk me down and I psyched myself out to scoot around the enormous blob.
Last year was by far the worst year ever for my slug aversion. The past summer slugs were out every night around 10pm. This was the witching hour for slugs. While I was still sitting outside in my back yard enjoying a late night margarita or can of PBR, you could see them inching out from under the back porch, climbing up over the curb of the cement patio. The worst nights were those when the slugs would find their way up the middle of the back door and stick there like gooey suction cups. It was too much. My skin is crawling just thinking of it. I would make my husband go out and remove all slugs before I could make my way outside.

I hate them so much and I don’t know why. The idea of touching a slug brings me to near fainting.

There was a morning last fall when I was making pancakes in my kitchen and I stepped on something just a little too squishy, and that was it. My two little kids watched as I screamed so loud and so high pitched, I scared the pajamas off of them and they both started crying. I ran to my bedroom, woke up my husband, and forced him to get the itty bitty slug out of the house. It was the worst thing that has ever happened.

I could not figure out how a slug could infiltrate the walls of my crappy rental house, until one evening I saw one crawl under the gap between the front door and the carpet (I mentioned my house was close to being a cardboard diorama of a house?) I sat in my chair and watched, petrified, without my husband around to save me, as the slug inched his way in. There was no way I was going to do anything about it. I couldn’t. Miraculously, the slug inched his way back out again. He must have sense my high pitched, supersonic scream about to burst forth and high tailed it out. We have since installed the weather stripping the door needed, not to keep the house from the hurricane strength drafts we endured for four years, but because there were slugs. I can’t have that.

Last Saturday was one of the most beautiful days we have had all spring. My daughter’s friends were gathering out in the yard for her birthday party, I was in the kitchen making small talk with moms. I looked up at the seam of the back door and noticed an odd splotch. It was right at eye level, nearly fossilized, and slug shaped with a line of dried yellow drip that ran down to I don’t know how far because now that I know what it is I will never be able to look at it again. I can’t figure out how a slug could crawl into the door jamb, have the door close, and not ever fall out. I can’t believe I just wrote a whole page about slugs. It was not at all cathartic, and I have no idea who is going to scrape off the remains stuck in the door frame.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chihuly's Eye Patch and "Billie's Jeans"

I considered very carefully this evening whether to sit here and watch last Friday’s episode of Friday Night Lights, put in a borrowed copy of The King’s Speech, play Bejeweled, or get back to the blog that is my last ticket to getting my MFA. You can see my choice was difficult.

I’m still recovering from possibly the busiest week of my life. First, I finished my master’s thesis, a project that took three years and is a whole book-length manuscript, albeit a short book, but a book nonetheless. If this manuscript were ever to be published it would undoubtedly reside in the “Essays” section of the bookstore—the one shelf below literary theory, next to Westerns, and, as I noted last time I looked, across from books on architecture.

The second noteworthy happening: Thing One turned five. She had a birthday party with all the little girls from her preschool class. I invited them all in hopes that, as it was the last day of Spring Break, at least a couple would be in town. As it was, all girls came and enjoyed a nice afternoon at the beauty spa. Remember, Fancy Nancy? Only two of the six girls opted for the smashed banana facial, but the foot soak full of marbles was very popular. I never realized as a child all the intricate planning that went into these little kids rites of passage. I thought each activity would take at least, 20 minutes. I had planned nothing else. After a whole 20 minutes total the spa day was over and I was left wondering what to do with six 5-year-olds. The impromptu dance party went over well, although I had to tell my daughter that we could only listen to one of her five favorite songs (you may recall from a previous post that I have questionable taste in music and wouldn’t want to warp anyone else’s kids). One precocious little spitfire suggested we listen to” Thriller”, and “Billie’s Jeans”. How could I argue?

And that was Saturday, but Saturday day and Sunday only came and went after I sold my soul to the Devil for the weekend off of work. I ended up working Thursday and Friday, serving sandwiches and Pinot Gris to the lovely ladies and gentlemen of Mercer Island. Bless them all for their wonderful tips. It does take some energy, though.
What could I be forgetting? Oh, yes. The Third Annual Bad Poetry Night, whereby each person presents original “bad” poems in different categories. I wrote a rather angry haiku about my disdain for Dale Chihuly’s eye patch--and artwork.

And Sunday, Easter, church, candy, baskets, more birthday presents. It wasn’t until this afternoon that I picked all the plastic Easter grass off my carpet. Little orange and pink threads stuck to my feet, in my shower, in my bed. I looked under the couch to find not only this year’s, but some of last year’s Easter grass as well. Who invented that stuff? And why do I continue to buy it every year? I distinctly remember last year both children flinging the grass into the air and racing around the house with handfuls, evenly distributing grass. I remembered this event—and still bought more this year. I am a masochist. Or a traditionalist. Who knows the difference these days.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Can I Learn About Myself from Horror Movies?

(This title has very little to do with what I wrote, as per usual).

If any of you recall my earlier posting about Naptime Horrorfest, you will know that I am a sucker for the free FearNet On Demand movies. It is the only thing that makes my cable bill slightly tolerable, that and Bubble Guppies, Dora, Little Einsteins—whatever my kids decide they want to watch On Demand that day so that I can do a dish, or two, or not. Well, horror movies are not reserved for naptime alone, I will watch one whenever there is nothing better on TV and I am too tired to do anything else. So, that’s about 80% of my free time, which is about .5% of my actual awake time.
Last night around 1:45am I was just finishing up the Australian “horror” movie, Lake Mungo. I proceeded to post on Facebook earlier in the evening about my love for Australian horror films, which is true, they make some really good movies. I posted this about five minutes into my journey to Lake Mungo. The film really looked promising, but I was a bit hasty in my posting.
The movie is a mockumentary directed by Joel Anderson, filmed with really rough shots of scenery and stationary interview shots. This part of the film was successful; I was convinced after an hour and a half that what they were talking about could have really happened, because, like real life documentaries, nothing scary happened. Shall I give you a synopsis? Ok, well, I don’t want to spoil it for everyone, but a girl dies in a lake during the first scene. The rest of the movie is about her ghost showing up in photographs. And, that is the movie. I totally ruined it for you. I had hoped there would be aliens so that I could at least hate the film in the end (although I am just nerdy enough to love sci-fi now and again). But there wasn’t any aliens. At the end of the movie I felt a little lost, and also like I had lost about an hour and a half of my life.
The people who made The Ring picked up this film after it premiered in the After Dark Horrorfest in 2008 and the new version is currently in development. I can’t wait to see what they do to make the film more exciting. In its current form it was artful, if not a little sad. I read that they scrapped the mockumentary style and now I imagine it will be one of the scariest movies ever, if not a completely different story altogether.
But my point isn’t so much about this movie as it was about my next project. I have to start writing something after I finish my master’s program. My husband suggested I write about horror movies because I have seen everything, and whatever is leftover I will watch and have an opinion about. This book could be good. It could be horror movies sorted out autobiographically and fit into my memoir. Or it could be nothing more than a bunch of pages of garbage where I give my thoughts on indie movies like The Hamiltons, which was so crappy and so awesome all at the same time. But I am not an expert, I am just an enthusiast. I am not kidding about suggestions for movies, books about these movies, and otherwise horror oriented research materials. I would love to interview people, too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's Kind of Like Musical Tourette's Syndrome

Every couple of months I find some new song I want to listen to in my car. What this means is I have to make a new mix CD for my car, and whatever I have thrown together will become the anthem for my children until I cut them off. I must be very careful what kinds of songs I choose. . .
I have always been somewhat of a connoisseur of music, not exactly an expert or visionary, but I like what I like and will go out of my way to like new and different stuff that no one has ever heard of. It used to be cooler when I actually went to music stores and stood there, listening to albums, holding them in my hands, studying the cover art. Now I just go to iTunes and they tell me what I will like, so I don’t have to shop around. This method is not as fun, but I will admit, it is efficient.
In my music library I have a chronology of songs that have been my favorites for years, and all the new songs that I will probably like for a couple of weeks before I forget why I bought them. Any number of these old and new songs can make it onto the car CD. My husband, who finds my taste in music to be questionable if not moderately unconscionable, has reserved the right to turn the song at any given point. I have developed a method by which we bleep out the swear words I always seem to forget about. Sometimes this involves yelling out a different word at the same time the artist, sometimes it is a scream, an animal sound, could be anything, this act is very much like musical Tourette’s syndrome. Sometimes I just turn the sound all the way down for one second. It wasn’t always so important, for about 3 years the little kid in the back seat didn’t know what the word was. For all intents and purposes the kids still don’t know, but now Thing One is old enough to ask, and Thing Two will undoubtedly repeat expletive at the most inappropriate times.
I can’t stop making these CDs. It is one of the quirks of my generation that we refuse to grow up. We start our own companies with the base model that no one will ever have to wear a suit. We manufacture and purchase onesies for our babies that mimic our favorite band t-shirts: The Ramones, Bob Marley, Nirvana. It will always be appropriate to wear Converse All-Stars with formal wear. We will never give in and listen to that crappy kids’ music they try to sell on TV. Never! But, I can see where there may be a problem when my kid is sitting in the back seat of the car bopping her head along to David Guetta and Akon singing Sexy Bitch.
One answer to the generational music dilemma was solved by the company that makes Rock-a-Bye Baby, lullaby music by your favorite bands. I’ll bet you never thought Tool could be as soothing as when they are played on the vibraphone. Now, I get to listen to Opiate, my favorite Tool song, and sing the words in my head while my kids fall asleep in the back. For about 3 months the baby version of Clocks by Coldplay was on constant repeat in my car, which is fortunately better than the original. The next song that got unlimited play was the baby version of In Bloom by Nirvana. You can’t help but sing along when you know the lyrics. Both my husband and I would sing the lyrics along with the little music box version so much that Thing One actually learned the words having never heard the original. To her, that version is the original.
I suppose the point of all this is that I want my kids to like what I like. No matter what happens, they will like at least 1 out of 10 options, and that’s a start. Tonight driving home we listened to Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes on repeat, as per request from the backseat. I’ll take that as proof that my plan is working.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Mother Told Me Never To Give Rides To Strangers

It is the home stretch for my master’s thesis, which is why I haven't posted anything for a week. I have become a regular at the Kinko’s in my neighborhood because the printer on my desk would explode if I forced it to regurgitate the same 150 pages every other day. I am hopeless at math, especially calculating percentages and averages, which means I am probably spending twice as much money at Kinko’s. I can’t be sure. I’m half convinced they line those tiny ink cartridges with diamonds for as much as they cost.  
The other reason I am obsessed with copying is that the helpful people at Kinko’s will take all 150 pages that I copied and put a spiral binding on it. I have never written a book before, watching it come together like a real life, turn the pages, kind of entity is almost too much. I make them put the binding on the book every single time.
Yesterday I printed out what I hope to be the last copy before I send my thesis off to the head of my master’s program, and all other higher powers in the Humanities department. I didn’t realize Kinko’s closed at 6pm on Sunday. I didn’t realize it was Sunday. I should have, considering I had been serving bloody mary’s and mimosa’s all morning. At 5:59pm the last 50 pages were spitting out of the copy machine, I went up to the guy at the counter and pleaded with him to put the binding on my book, even though I knew he was allowed to kick me out and lock the doors. He shrugged, said that it would probably be ok, and I was so happy again.
There is a lot of quiet time while you are the only person at Kinko’s. I stood at the counter while he punched the tiny set of holes in the side, section by section. I looked at their assortment of candies and chips, studied their pen selection, considered purchasing a bubble insulated manila envelope. And then the guy is done punching the holes, he comes over to the counter and makes small talk while he winds the spiral plastic through each hole. He tells me it’s no big deal I’m making him stay late because he’s taking a different bus, it doesn’t come until later. I ask him where he’s going. He says Ballard. Oh, I am going to Ballard. . . And then I something very odd comes out of my mouth. . . Does he want a ride?
I think the fumes of the printer ink must have been getting too me. And he almost said no, and I was almost ok with that. But, I waited for him to close the shop, and as soon as he got in my car he said: My mother told me never to take rides from strangers. And I answered: My mother told me never to give rides to strangers. We agreed never to tell our mothers.
The ride was uneventful, if not even a little pleasant. The conversation wasn't awkward. He was just a nice guy who needed a ride. Every once in a while it feels kind of good to do a favor for a stranger, just like he kept the store open a few extra minutes for me. I’m not saying that I’ll ever do it again. In fact, don’t ask me for a ride, because that may have filled my generosity quota for a long time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This One Is About Star--The Psychic.

Because I am tired, here is something from my notebook:
I once overheard Star telling someone not to get on the plane. Star was the psychic who came in to give readings at the restaurant every Monday night. Of course Star wasn’t her real name. It’s the first name that comes up in the Psychic’s handbook, I am certain. She told me once that she changed her name because she was hiding from one of her husbands—but it wasn’t George, because George was dead and sometimes came to visit us in the women’s restroom.
Star was maybe 5 feet tall, probably less. Her hair was whitish-blonde, she wore plain looking frames on her round face. I have no idea how old she was, other than she looked old to me when I was twenty-one. Her body matched her face, round like two round parts of a snow person stacked on top of one another. When she walked it was almost a waddle, her weight shifted heavily from side to side, an attribute adding to her seeming “oldness.” The real kicker was her voice. It was as if she had been given helium as a baby and her vocal chords never recovered. She looked and sounded exactly like the psychic from the Poltergeist movies. So much so that people would frequently comment on it. Each time she would look away and pretend she had no idea what they were talking about. Baloney. She knew it.
Looking back a little I have a memory of Star taking me into the women’s restroom on some crazy Mardi Gras when she wasn’t doing readings in her special corner. She pulled out her cards and placed them on the hand painted tiles around the sink. It seemed to me that the cards were mostly for effect, but I am a huge sucker for that kind of stuff, so I played along. She told me very little. What I do remember wasn’t even about me. Star gave me a few tips about my boyfriend. She said, “J Rob is going to get married and have kids someday, but I don’t know if it’s with you. He’ll also own his own house someday . . . but I don’t know if it will be with you.” Comforting, really. My boyfiriend and I had been dating for maybe six months at the time. I didn’t put much stock in my psychic.
Monday night readings were free for anyone who bought dinner. All the weirdos came in on Mondays. The believers—Star’s “regulars.” They would order nothing more than a side salad, or a shrimp remoulade appetizer and get kind of perturbed when it wasn’t filling the dinner requirement. We had to keep our eye on these regulars. Star would put people on her list and waddle around the restaurant taking each one back to her little corner between the door and the wall. I once heard her tell a woman, “He has a shotgun. You need to get out of there.” This, while my arms were loaded with plates to take back to the kitchen. Sometimes she would come out from her readings and tell us about a person who was, as she described them, a “really bad person,” and when she said bad it felt like murderous.
One day before a shift I was sweeping the back patio. Star came outside to eat her nightly ration of chicken and sausage gumbo. I don’t know why or how the subject came up, but she told me one of her husbands had slashed her open and buried her alive. She said that she had been dug up and rescued by a dog. It was the biggest load of horse pocky I had ever heard in my entire life, but I gave her credit for making up a good story, and nodded, playing along. Then, she lifted up her shirt to show a pale purple scar running diagonally up the length of her body. Not a small surgical scar, it extended from below and went up past where she held her shirt. What does a person say to that?
Star really was a crazy, no denying. Half of the things she said weren’t true, the other half made no sense at all. But, that day that she pulled me into the bathroom for the reading—well, my boyfriend is now my husband and we have two kids. I’m crossing my fingers that whole house owning thing will work out.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Instead of the ER, I Bought Some Barbie Band Aids

We’ve never had a real emergency around here. There was the one time I took Thing One to the ER to make sure she didn’t have appendicitis. One x-ray, one ultrasound, one straw in the arm (which is what the nurse told her the IV was), and one thousand dollars later, we left Children’s Hospital knowing nothing more than she didn’t have appendicitis.
This afternoon the sun was shining, the birds were chirping little birdie warbles, my kids were playing chase on the way in the door to preschool. Everyone was happy—and then there were tears. Thing One smashed her finger in the heavy, industrial, community center door. She got it good, it swelled up purple, bled a little, and I am pretty sure she has never been in that much pain in her entire life. Meanwhile, I drop Thing Two in the preschool classroom; he steals a toy giraffe and runs back out the door. I had one heavy five-year-old on my hip sobbing, the two-year-old laughing at me as he runs out the door. I decided we would all just go back home.
And that is the point my maternal instincts kick in and I question everything I should do. Should I take her to the hospital? She is practically screaming in agony. What if her tiny fingertip is shattered? Bones poking out, bleeding under the fingernail. And then I think about what doctors normally do for a person with a broken finger—nothing. Maybe a splint, but mostly because the patient needs to have something physical attached to make him or her feel like a treatment is “working.” I remind myself that they don’t prescribe pain killers to kids. If I were to take her to the emergency room they would tell me to give her Tylenol, give her a Band Aid, and bill us for $500. 
So I didn’t take her anywhere. I gave her the Tylenol, told her to hold her hand up in the air (only after she refused the ice), and bought her some Barbie Band Aids. Two hours and a little nap later she was good as new. Her middle finger on her right hand is still enormous and purple, and every time she shows me her Barbie Band Aid she smiles at me while she flips me off.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Two Speeding Tickets and a Dead Raccoon

It is Friday. As good a day as any to get a speeding ticket.
It’s ok, I was going way over the speed limit along with every other car on the freeway, my car just happened to be in the HOV lane, closest to the cop. He was really nice, and I didn’t cry or try to negotiate with the man. I was speeding. He was doing his job. The whole experience brought to mind all the other times in my life I had been pulled over. . .
Today was speeding ticket number five, I think. The first ticket I got in the very same spot on I-5, passing Federal Way. It was 1999, I was listening to a Metallica song. I tried to explain this to the cop as an obvious reason why I was going twenty miles over the speed limit. She didn’t care.
The next ticket was just over the county line into Spokane. I was on my way to visit my parents in Montana. I thought the speed limit was 75 because it is later on different parts of I-90. The cop asked me if I knew how fast I was going, I said “Uh, 80.” Like it was no big deal. He thought it was a big deal.
The next two tickets were in the same day. Also on my way to Montana. One coming over Snoqualimie Pass. That was just stupid. Then, later that day I got a speeding ticket in Montana, the state infamous for not having a speed limit. The Montana cop also asked how I would like to take care of it. I handed him twenty bucks and the ticket never went on my record. That wasn’t my best driving day. I also hit a raccoon. I can still see him in my head, stopped dead ahead—and I swear he had his hands in the air pleading with me not to run over him.
But those last four tickets were all between my freshman and junior years of college (sorry mom). I drove really responsibly after that for eight years. I promise. But I did find it odd that this afternoon, my two kids in the back seat didn’t even question why that policeman was giving mommy a little piece of paper. Don’t worry about  it, kids. We’ll never have any money to insure you, or buy you a car.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Slicing Vegetables in the Bluegrass Family Band

A couple of years ago I was planning to get my husband a banjo for Christmas. The idea of being surrounded by an eclectic group of instruments seemed like an appealing hobby, albeit rather expensive. We already had a nice pile of instruments lying around because when I started playing classical guitar in college my dad began giving me stringed instruments as gifts. I have a blue generic brand electric guitar, a twelve string,  an awesome Takamine steel string with pickups, one Alvarez classical guitar that is nice, one old classical that belonged to my dad in the 60s, and a mountain dulcimer that I have never had a clue how to play, but looks kind of exciting and mysterious.
Shortly before that Christmas my in-laws over in Spokane shot me a text message asking if Jeff had a Mandolin. What luck! My husband could meet his obscure instrument quota, and I wouldn’t have to buy a banjo I had no money for since Trading Musician broke the news that my twelve string guitar had “a bubble” rendering it worthless.  
A mandolin! That was even cooler than I expected. I had no idea that Jeff’s family shared his interest in music. In fact, I was almost positive that they didn’t . . .  
Have you ever been in a room and anticipated one thing, then let out an audible I-get-it-now noise when you see what is really there? You try your best to hide it, but it is kind of a cross between a shocked inhale, and a quick “Oh my god,” under your breath, so no one can see that you made a mistake. That was Christmas morning, when, to my utter surprise, my husband opens his brand new mandolin—the kind that slices vegetables. The kind of mandolin that would be most appropriate for my husband, the cook, the guy who has worked in kitchens and restaurants for a long time. The kind of mandolin that never, ever once crossed my mind.
I thought of this today as I pulled the mandolin out from its hiding spot under the microwave. It’s getting a little old now, missing the little piece that looks like a cowboy hat that stabs into the vegetable like a handle—so you don’t slice off parts of your strumming hand. I am still mourning the fact that we never got a banjo, or a mandolin. How will we ever start our family bluegrass band without them? I’m positive that Thing Two will be excellent at finger picking the banjo, considering how well he picks his nose. Thing One can construct her own stand up bass from a broom stick and a bucket, and then teach herself how to play it. I’ll stick with guitar. Husband can pick the songs and sing, then procure the hippie followers. We’ll set up in the back yard on top of the giant stump that used to be a poplar tree and go to town. I hope someone will do the windmill, preferably while wearing overalls.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Psychoacoustics: I Haven't Read Far Enough To Understand

Somehow, someway, I have managed to read almost an entire book in the past couple weeks. Spook, by Mary Roach. Not only does she write about casing out supernatural activity, but she is witty. She reminds me of myself, if I had the time and funds to go around proving/disproving supernatural forces at work. And, in case you had any doubts about me, I totally believe in the spirits, and I am completely convinced that no one will ever adequately prove their existence.
I don’t think anyone realizes how hard it is for me to finish reading a book. The bookshelves in my living room make me look fairly well read, if not moderately scholarly. And I have read . . . most of the books. Half of the books, at least. I have a handful of favorite books, but when I start to think of what they are, the same few that pop into my head. It’s true, Gone With the Wind is my favorite book. It took me almost three months to finish. For me that seems like a very long time.
I’m actually a pretty fast reader, but I am not a focused reader. It is incredibly hard for me to sit down, open a book, and just stare at it. That doesn’t sound so hard, but what about the perfect place? The right amount of pillows? My cup of tea?  A blanket? What about the sounds that are going on all around? What about the kitchen? Is it clean? Do I care if it is clean? I couldn’t possibly read while there is a pile of laundry in the room with me (not that I will fold it, I will just actively ignore it, which means watching reruns of Criminal Minds, or CSI in the middle of the afternoon). Are my kids thoroughly occupied? If not, I will have one jumping on my lap, and one strangling me from behind in my chair. I can’t read from this position, but I can play Bejeweled on my phone. And what else, what else, what else? That is how I feel about reading during the day.
There are a few solitary moments before bed. Reading in bed is the best. There is peace, quiet, warm blankets, pillows—and one page later I am asleep. It is very hard to finish a book by reading one page a day.
So, thank you very much, blogging time, for taking me away from the 10 minutes of focus I will have to finish “Chapter 10, Listening to Casper: A psychoacoustics expert sets up camp in England’s haunted spots.” It promises to be very enlightening, and turn out exactly as one would predict a psychoacoustic analysis to be  . . . I can only hope that it is as thrilling as the chapter about ectoplasm, and the mediums of the early 1920s (in which mediums stuff cheese cloth into any feasible, or unfeasible, bodily orifice to pull out during the key moment of a séance, proclaiming it was coming from the spirit world). I love this book way too much. I hope I finish it someday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dropping F-Bombs in Front of Her Grandmas

You know that sound that Marge Simpson makes? Her trademark groaning noise; the grumble from deep within her soul that passively voices her frustration and discontent without actually having a psychotic break. I've recently learned this is a motherly sound. If you don’t know the sound I am talking about, you are welcome to come over to my house, I have just become aware of myself making this pitiful angry animal growl. Mine might be worse than the Marge Simpson noise, I'm not sure. But, I promise that it was always subconscious. In fact, the only reason I noticed it as a habit was because my daughter, in her 5 year old frustrations, now makes this noise as if it were normal.  I asked my husband the other day if he noticed the groan. He looked at me and said, “Yeah, you do groan a lot.” So now, every time I hear the rumble coming out of me I have check myself--if only I could stop being provoked.  The situation could be worse. Thing One could be dropping F-bombs in front of her grandmas, but I still find the groaning sound so annoying. And even more troubling that she picked up the habit from me.

I suppose this is an appropriate segue into talking about how we all become our mothers eventually, like it or not. I’m really lucky. My mom is a really sweet, wonderful, kind human being who never swears and is a great listener. I’ll be the last to know if these traits ever show up in me, but what I have seen lately is how we both talk to my kids. There have been many occasions when my mom, my two kids, and me are sitting at the dinner table. One kid will wander off, pick up food off the floor, pick his nose—and my mom and I will give the same reprimand at the same time. “No, no! Don’t give your dinner to the dogs!” or “Icky, icky, yuck, don’t eat that it’s dirty.” It’s like parenting in stereo. I’m pretty lucky that when I leave my kids with their grandma I know things will be consistent, if not a slightly better version.
I wonder if it is fair for me to consciously change my actions in order to determine how my kids will be as adults (as if that were possible). What if I start to do strange things, like barking every time I see a dog; or what if I start cutting all sandwiches into thirds just so they will be totally weird when they start taking lunch to school?
What if I changed the way I laugh? That would mess with everyone.

Monday, April 4, 2011

It Totally Doesn't Rain that Much in Seattle, Except for Today

The Killing on AMC premiered last night. I didn’t watch it. I went to bed early because I was beat from waiting tables at brunch, going to the park, and generally being needed by everyone all weekend. My husband, however, came to bed around 1 am telling me about the most amazing show he had just watched. He started in the middle and was so intrigued he had to stay up for the encore so he could see the beginning. I sort of heard everything he said, and I may have replied something incoherent, as I tend to do when we see each other between 11 and 2 in the morning.
It isn’t often that my husband gets that excited about a show before I have seen it. Fortunately, my cable provides this show to me On Demand the next day, so instead of watching horror this afternoon I was able to catch up on this gruesome, honest, and incredibly dramatic crime show—one of my favorite things in the world aside from cheese, beer, and new pens.  As it turns out, this show takes place right here, in my very own city of Seattle. How heartwarming to see the dreary, grey, fly by footage of the Space Needle. But there are a few things a person has to notice about a show specifically set in their home town.
The first, the constant torrential downpour they show in almost every scene. I admire their spirit, trying to make the city live up to its stereotype, but it really isn’t like that here . . . (except for today—and most of last week, but this is irrelevant). The fact is, no one in this city carries an umbrella. I actually wore my flip flops out in the rain today, and I don’t own a raincoat, although this year I did purchase some trendy rubber boots, but I have mostly worn them on days without puddles. On television it really does rain in Seattle the way everyone thinks it does (My friend points out to me that in this scene there has to be someone with a hose pointed directly at a window). I suppose this publicity is good for our city, because if they were to show everyone how amazing the trees and the water is when the sun comes out, everyone in the world would want to live here.
The second interesting thing is the way that they sometimes pronounce the names of our outlying cities. On this show one kid pronounced Tukwila,” Tuk-wee-la.”  Which is wrong, in case you were thinking in your head “What’s wrong with that?” Plus, this kid was supposed to be from Mercer Island, and I am fairly certain no kid from Mercer Island is going to hang out at a bar in Tukwila. Especially not The Blue Moon, because that is in the University District. I will be keeping tabs on the show in its forthcoming episodes for any of these discrepancies, mostly because it makes me laugh when people on television pronounce Puyallup, “Poo-yall-up.”
I’m sure there are other things that I found egregious perpetuations of Seattle stereotypes, but overall the show was pretty spectacularly spot on. They had some beautiful scenes of Puget Sound, Shilshole Marina, Discovery Park (if it wasn’t discovery park I was fooled), and they did an excellent job portraying punk kids hanging out on the streets of Capitol Hill. I like this show, and just like the television promotions said, “You will be angry at the end of every episode.” I assume they mean because you don’t want it to end.  

Friday, April 1, 2011

How I Spent All My Grocery Money at the Movie Theater

I have a five-year-old who has been bombarded by commercials for a certain holiday film. Last night before bed I asked her what she wanted to do with her day off from school, and she said, “Go see Hop!” I supposed I could spare a Friday afternoon to see a movie with my daughter about the Easter Bunny who poops jelly beans. Why not?
Aside from the fact that Hollywood is generally not making great movies anymore, I postulated several theories about why I dislike the theater these days. But first, there are the obvious reasons people don’t frequent the theaters like they used to: home theaters are better, more comfortable, you can eat and drink anything, you can talk during films (much to the dismay of your friends and family), and if you happen to be some sort of technology enthusiast, you may even have a 3-D TV. Hooray for you! These things are all the bonus points for watching movies at home.
I used to go see movies by myself all the time. It was my favorite thing to do on my days off (back when I had those). I would get in my car and drive to any movie theater, walk in, and see whatever was playing closest to the time that I got there. Like I said in my previous post, I will pretty much watch anything, and watching horrible movies by myself kept me from feeling somehow responsible for the awfulness of the movie to whoever I might be with. On these solitary excursions I didn’t really frequent the snack bar because I think popcorn, as a food, is a waste of my time, and the only carbonated beverages I like are beer and bubbly. After my experience this afternoon I realize that I saved myself at least a thousand dollars.
I have never been more proud as a mother than today when my daughter chose, out of all the candy in the concession stand, fruit snacks and a small bottle of water—and a mini pepperoni pizza, but whatever. All that with a bag of popcorn cost me $26. For that kind of money I could have bought myself some amazing small plates at some posh Seattle Gastropub. Or I could have bought a nice bottle of bubbles. Or four happy meals at McDonalds. It’s all about perspective. Needless to say, I shouldn’t have let the girl talk me into the bigger bag of popcorn for a dollar.
Today I purchased my tickets online, Fandango style. We spent extra for the RPX show. There went another $25 cha-ching in my ear. I had no idea what that meant. Did that mean 3-D? Was there something magical that happened in this “Premium” theater? No. The seat was so big that my daughter couldn’t get the folded seat to stay down. She either sat with her body folded in half, legs up in the air, or she sat on the top of the seat still folded up. More than once I rescued her from falling off or falling in. And, it turns out, the premium part of the show is that the seats occasionally vibrate. That was an exciting addition to this confusing Christmas-like version of the Easter Bunny story. (Yes, he flies away in an egg shaped sleigh pulled by 50 tiny chickens, from Easter Island where tiny chicken minions work to make all the candy for Easter morning. Except the jelly beans, which apparently are Easter bunny excrement).
The volume in the theater was turned up so loud I swear I felt blood trickling out of my ear. During the previews I thought perhaps one of the high school kids, working whatever kind of buttons they push up there in the box, had made a mistake. I considered leaving the theater, not just for my kid or all the others who were crouched in their seats holding their ears, for my own sake. I’m getting too old for rock concert decibels when I am not actually at a rock concert. I have to conserve the little hearing I have left. But, just like any show, it’s so loud that you get used to it after a little while. But that doesn’t make it awesome.
So I guess the point here is that I love my kid, I wanted her to have a great time at the movies like I did when I was a kid. We actually went to the same movie theater that I saw The Little Mermaid in when I was 8 (not on purpose, I have just lived in this city forever). I’m not really sure what she thought, but when we came home she asked, “Why did we see that movie in the theater?”  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Girl Who is Always Crying in the Public Library (P.S. It's Me)

I don’t have an office. I have a desk in my bedroom, but is so piled with books, and bills, and garbage that I couldn’t possibly sit there and work. But, I might be persuaded to clean up the junk mail and old wireless box, and the 27 copies of my 40 page critical thesis, if it weren’t for Thing One and Thing Two popping in and out of the room at random. Actually, I could get a lot of work done sitting right here in this chair in my living room if the two of them were asleep or at school for more than 3 hours a day. Life being what it is, I have made the Seattle Public Library my preferred place for writing (I mean real writing, not this blogging business I do before I watch crime drama for the rest of the night). 
I tried writing at coffee shops. The “cool” independent places that have rustic, mismatched tables and chairs, play music that I would listen to on my iPod, and have blueberry muffins that I would drive out of my way for (Zoka), are usually already full of “cool” people. If I thought I could set up my office in one of the restrooms I might try to go there more often—for the muffins. But even if I did have a place to put my computer, their customer service emotes that dreary Seattle attitude that makes me want to make little nasal sniffs at my own jokes and roll my eyes at things. I’m pretty sure I do enough of that on my own. Damn good coffee, though.
I tried writing at Starbucks, which I somehow do not count as a coffee shop, and I don’t feel like I really have to explain why. They have amazing customer service, my coffee always tastes the same (I like consistency in these areas), and there is almost always a place to sit—at least at the ones I frequent out here in the middle of North Seattle. But, the music at Starbucks is BAD. That’s right, all caps BAD. Every once in a while they play a song I like, and then I immediately hate it because I am sitting at a table that is too small for my computer, I can hear the jolly baristas having a private party back behind the bar, and everything is so awful and loud and green.
So I write at the library now. Remember the library? The place where they rent books for free? There is nothing quite like surrounding yourself with unlimited resources at your disposal—oh wait, there is Google. But really, I like the library because it feels like the same place to work every day, but every day there is a different character to study.
For some reason I picked an old library in moderately sketchy part of town. Sometimes I will sit down and be bombarded by the sounds of people hacking and snorting. So many bodily functions can be heard at a place without a stereo.  Once I sat next to a man that was moaning and coughing, then he would get up and pace around the stacks, then sit back down and moan some more. I almost moved. Almost. Another time I saw a guy rolling his own cigarettes on the nice, flat, laminated surface of the public tables. People frequently get kicked out for being asleep. Sometimes I see mothers sitting in there so their babies can take a nap. Those are the people that make me sad, the women with small children who have nowhere else to go. I take my kids to the library all the time for the same reason, not to nap, but because we have nothing else to do.  At least at the end of our trip we have a place to take our books.
It is strange how, in a way, I feel like I am exactly like all these library characters. I’m that girl with the tweed coat who comes in with her red computer. The girl who sniffs a lot (because she has perpetual allergies/colds). I’m the girl who sits in the corner next to the round window so I can see what’s happening out on the street behind the giant rhododendrons. I’m the girl who is always writing things way too personal for the library—that girl who is always crying in public.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Naptime Horrorfest

One of my most favorite things about being a stay at home kind of mom is, of course, naptime. I don’t think any mother of two enthusiastic little bundles of tantrums and neediness doesn’t appreciate locking the babes up for an hour or two of peace and quiet. And let’s not pretend like the kids don’t need it, no matter how much they may protest. Naptime at my house has turned into a kind of ritual, one where I make myself a lunch of whatever in the whole world I feel like—sometimes it’s nachos, sometimes I eat four cupcakes, every once in a while I have a ham sandwich, depends on the day. After lunch is assembled I watch free horror movies On Demand. That’s what I do, almost every day, eat crap and watch horror movies.
Since my husband started working at Canlis, he works later than he used to. I think I finally let my secret out because for the past three days I just turned on whatever I wanted and he was forced to participate in naptime horrorfest. I can’t help it. The movies aren’t supposed to be good, and I’ve always been attracted to that thriller/apocalyptic nonsense (which is why I can’t even begin to discuss 2012 with anyone, ever). My horror repertoire is so extensive these days that I play the guess the ending game, which I know annoys everyone in the world, but I it makes me feel like I have a special talent because 95% of the time I am spot on. What is funny about my husband showing up for the naptime horror, is that he always has to leave right before the end. When he comes home at midnight I sometimes give him the elongated, drawn out, and mind numbing synopsis of the last 10 minutes of the movie. I try to make it go at actual pace, so this usually takes me ten minutes. I’m certain he is listening the whole time, riveted. (I am happy he humors me on all these fronts).
Today we watched an exciting apocalyptic slasher film called Tooth and Nail, staring Rider Strong (yes, the friend from Boy Meets World, and yes, he does look exactly the same age as he did then) and a bunch of other people I recognized, but whose names were not on the On Demand info button. I wasn’t paying really close attention because I was filling out my daughter’s registration for kindergarten, but it was very similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, last people left on Earth eating each other sort of thing. That was not the interesting part, the part that got me was that this cast of weirdos was nearly identical to a movie I watched on Monday called Borderland, a film I chose because I recognized not only Rider Strong’s name, but who doesn’t know Sean Astin? He plays a psychotic American in Mexico following a cannibalistic cult—supposedly based on true events. . . It was like having a week long party with all the same people. In between these two surprisingly OK films, I chose an eerie British thriller called Creep, staring Franka Potente, one of my favorite Deutsch actresses. This one had the potential to be really scary, except nothing is really scary at naptime because it’s one in the afternoon.
I have no idea what I’ll feel like watching tomorrow. The On Demand descriptions of each film make them all sound ridiculous. Like some 14-year-old wrote a tiny report about the film and they cut out the best paragraph for the synopsis. Usually there isn’t much accuracy, but lean towards humorous so I keep on reading them. I won’t lie, I have turned off more movies than I have finished. The fact that I just had three days in a row of moderately watchable horror was very satisfying. If there are any suggestions from anyone, I will pretty much watch anything.