Thursday, March 31, 2011

The State Of The Minivan

Once a year, generally in January, the President of the United States offers up a speech meant to secure his base, silence his scoffers, and reassure Americans and the rest of the world that he knows what he is doing. 
I always watch this speech.  I mist up a little bit, regardless of who is in office.  I love my country, and I will always feel a sense of pride when I hear our president speak to the nation.  
I’ve decided that as a way of introducing myself and my new blog, I’ll present the text of my State of The Minivan address.  No illusions of grandeur here; it’s just that it has been a difficult day and it is either this or hard liquor.  I’ve decided to be sensible, as it isn’t yet the weekend.
So, without further adieu (and with a special thanks to our current President for the framework of this speech), I give you…me. 
Mr. Husband, Members of my Household, Distinguished Canines, and Fellow Parents:
Tonight, I come to you because I am alone in this house. Mr. Husband loaded up the vehicle known affectionately to me as the 'Mom Bomb' and took the entirety of the unwashed, unfed hoard to soccer practice. 
It’s no secret that today was a difficult day.  Since the time the school bus arrived at three PM, the debates have been contentious, and all sides have fought viciously for their beliefs.  While a robust populace demands this level of vigorous debate, it was not a pleasant day for this mother, who yearned for a more perfect union. 
Amid all the chaos, including my favorite candle which somehow made its way outside today for the dog to chew and the toilets that somehow never seem to get flushed by anyone but me, we are a family.  We believe that we are bound together by love and affection as one albeit quirky unit.
Simply recognizing this fact will not usher in a new era of recognizing that clean clothes do not magically appear in drawers.  It will not automatically foster a spirit of goodwill at the dinner table or keep children from kicking their siblings. 
Respect for oneself involves respect for one's parents and one's family.  While this is not a democracy, I generally find your observations amusing, unless the decibel level is overly heightened.  Today was not a stellar day, but with the intervention of Mr. Husband, life got decidedly better for all parties.  And arguably quieter.
Choosing to respect me is not an option.  Might I remind you that I was not voted into office?  Mr. Husband and I developed a close partnership over many late nights of coffee, which turned into wine, which turned into making out on his bachelor couch.  And love was never a challenge in those early days.  We liked other, we enjoyed each other, and we committed ourselves to one another in front of our friends and family for a lifetime of what we believed would be peace and tranquility.
We have pictures to prove it.
I hear the gagging noises from the members of my household, and I readily admit that I am not amused.  I now address you directly.  The people generally seated at our dining table did not create our love, but you were certainly added to this table because of it.  Learn to accept it, as we have learned to love and accept you.
We have never measured your progress by standardized testing or by your ability to perform, but by your quality of life and the quality of life that you bring to us. 
That being said, all of us must do our part to sacrifice for the common good.  For the members of this household, this means as a bare minimum picking up your toys, doing your homework without being reminded, feeding animals, and taking out trash.  The completion of these tasks brings about a sense of peace for all parties concerned. 
But we have to do more.  We also ask that you would use your indoor voices and seek peaceful means of resolving discord.  We ask that you would stop looking at each other and making faces at one another, lest you incite riot.
We're looking forward.  To win the future, you’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.  (Just because you weren’t there or don’t remember doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.)  In short, you are going to college.  End of discussion.  We’ll help you pay for it, but we’re not paying for a four year party.  (Unless it is for us.)
We understand that your lives have been difficult in recent days, as we would not go through junior high school or high school again for all of the cake pops at Starbucks. 
But understand that we are investing in you in the hopes that you will have a brighter future than ours.  There are four of you, so we’re spreading out this investment, hoping that one of you makes it so that we get the good nursing home.  The one with the heated, indoor pool.
As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift; it is an achievement.”  In other words, we aren’t giving you everything you want.  Your future involves work, effort, and a commitment to yourself. 
We provide you with educational, social, and travel opportunities, a vast network of friends and family members, health care, clean water, and peer-supported apparel.  That we make you ride around in a seven year old minivan and hug you in public are tradeoffs.  We would prefer a classier car, but you happen to be wearing it in your mouths.
And know this.  Despite your whining and bickering, your wet towels on the bathroom floor, your pestering and your scowls, we believe in you.  You are the future, and you are the pride of our lives.
We are the story of an ordinary couple who dared to dream big.  And our dream is that one day, your gifts and talents should be used to make the world a better place.  That one day, you will find someone to love and with whom to share your hopes and dreams.  And that you also might have children for whom we will buy noisy, battery-operated toys in our old age.
As we raise you, we also seek to love and remember other children who, despite hardship and toil and super-human effort, do not have access to the gifts that you have been given.  We remember them this night, and we seek to make their lives better through community effort and personal involvement.  As you grow up, please do not forget them and remember to give out of your abundance to them.
Our family, in short, rocks and will continue to rock.  To quote our current president, “our destiny remains our choice.  And it’s because of our children that our future is hopeful, that our journey moves forward, and that the state of our union is strong.”
The state of the minivan is another story; someone needs to get a trash bag and get busy.  It is like driving around in a dumpster.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless families and children everywhere.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Good Morning Guilt And Shame

Why do educated, liberated women wake up to television morning programs? 
Highly paid pundits fluctuating between grim and giggly in the course of fifteen seconds – is this the first thing I want in the morning?  Blizzards, flooding, death, despair, and destruction -- and it isn't even 7 am.  I have to avoid the top of the hour until at least noon.  That's where all of life's tragedy is.  It's too much for any of us to drink in. 
I start feeling hopeless before I even start.  Why must I wake up and learn all about the bad things that happened overnight while I blissfully slept with an eight year old’s knee in my kidney?
Thankfully, it's not all news.  Besides, I have this suspicion that the rest of the hour exists to make we women feel guilty.  I’ll admit I want this commentator’s life, complete with a makeup and hair person and someone who picks out my clothes and Spanx.
I’ll share another secret.  I have never had much fashion sense.  After many years of fighting and trying to convince people otherwise, I now accept this.  My sense of style dictates that sweatpants, sneakers, and a t-shirt reading “Where Are We Going And What Am I Doing In This Handbasket?” might be considered business casual, depending upon the business that you are in.  (I write from home.) 
Thus, a haute couture fashion show first thing in the morning by women as thin as pencils makes my ankles swell.  So much for those knee boots she’s wearing that are ‘back’ and ‘in’ this Spring.  If I bought those $5000 boots, my husband would have me buried in them.  My tombstone would read, “She died with her boots on.”  He’d see to that.
There is always a food segment, where something I’ve been doing since I was five years old with the women in my family is now considered ‘novel’ and ‘chic’.  Pie crust, for example.  Or noodles that you roll out and cut yourself.  Or using a leftover to chop up in a salad to save money.  Riveting.  No one has ever thought of doing any of this before.
The commentators gush at the food presenter before taking bites from the same plate and sometimes they use the same fork.  (This always makes me a little squeamish.) Generally, one of the commentators makes a big scene of taking the plate from the others, giggling while calling this her “breakfast.”  She then sets the plate down as another novelty is presented, like making your own from scratch soup. 
It is in this moment that I want to jump through the screen, grab her abandoned plate, and feed those skinny waifs from the fashion segment. 
But instead of exploding, I am haunted by a question.
How can two bites be ‘breakfast’?
Interestingly, the food segment is generally followed by the weight loss segment.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions here.
Lest we become too depressed by the middle age spread, we get to hear all about how last evening, our leaders spotted the latest celebrity at the latest club in New York.  It was a divine night.  All the stars were out and wearing their favorite designers.  The drinks were divine, the uneaten food amazing, the dancing, the glitter and glamour. 
I’m usually matching long lost socks at this point, watching my daughter lick oatmeal from her forearm.  I run a comb through my hair and sit up a little straighter. 
The medical segment inevitably gives me hypochondria.  After learning about rapid-cycling bi-polar manic depression with episodes of attention deficit and seasonal effective disorders and how 300 million Americans suffer in silence, I decide to start a round of self-medication with Little Debbies and Diet Coke.  (Of course, this is only after my vitamin regimen rich in Omega-3 oils and antioxidants.  I strive to be heart healthy.)
There is always a segment on parenting.  The gist involves packaging your infant in bubble wrap until they are eleven, then letting them have whatever they want.   
Nothing is safe enough.  And no lengths are too long to go to make sure a child will never suffer.  Anything less is considered child abuse.  But then, at the magical moment of junior high, kids are to be completely free to explore their passions while you become a virtual ATM.
No wonder my girlfriends with kids all twitch a little.
Stupid questions are asked in this segment. 
“Should you monitor your child’s cell phone usage?”  Really?  I’ve actually considered bringing Peter Falk out of retirement for this very task. 
“When should girls shave their legs?”  Um, when the boy next door refers to her as Sasquatch? 
"Is there a perfect way to diaper?”  CYA.  Well, theirs, not yours.  Get the right bum, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Then there is the woman who spends $3.67 on $6000 worth of groceries a week.  They trot her out on the set as a hero.  I fluctuate between pity (this woman clearly needs a hobby beyond her ‘coupon caddy’) and green-eyed envy at her racket.  She only spends about twenty-six hours a week clipping coupons, and “it isn’t much of a bother at all.” 
My coupons are always stuffed into the bottom in my purse, used to catch some kid’s gum or even a stray booger in a pinch.  Again, I’m deflated.
Before I am completely undone, I notice that this woman’s ankles are a bit thick.  Even though with her $654,834.75 that she saved last year, the Jimmy Choo boots from the fashion segment (and she could afford them with her OCD penny pinching) do not allow for girth.  Trust me on this one.  Jimmy doesn’t understand cankles.  I brighten up a little.
So I’ve given them up, these morning wake up shows.  If there is traffic, I’ll know it when I get there.  If it’s going to snow, again, much like my ancestors before me, I will look up at the sky.  If my kids are texting Thailand in the name of education, we’ll figure that out when we go through their texts every night.  Yes, you read that right.  Texting at our house isn’t private until one pays one’s phone bill, and no one has yet signed up for that plan.
And, let’s face it, my thigh-high boots days are over.  Heck, who am I fooling?  They never existed.  Besides, they’d never go with my sweatpants.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Raising Modern-Day Connivers

“Mom?  Can you help me write a paragraph?”
I glance at the microwave clock.  “It’s 10:30 at night.  You should have been in bed an hour ago.”
“Dad let me stay up.”
“He did?”
“Yeah, he said it was because I had a lot of homework.”
“You had a lot of homework?  What were you doing kicking a soccer ball around earlier?”
“You weren’t around to help me.  You were busy, remember?”
“I don’t.”  I truly didn’t.  The afternoon was a blur. 
“You were.  Trust me, Mom.  You’ve seemed kind of tired lately.  Is everything okay?”
“I’m fine.  It’s…a lot of things, really.  Where’s your dad?”
“It’s really 10:30?”
“It’s okay, Mom.  Your mind wanders.”
“Good thing I have you.  What are you writing about?”
“The challenges of Athenian democracy for the citizen-initiator.”
“Let me guess?  It’s due tomorrow.”
“It was only assigned today.”
He’s lying.  “You’re lying.”
He concedes.  “A little.”
“Have you done any research?”
“No.  I figured you knew about it.  You studied this stuff once.”
“What do I look like?  Freakin’ Wikipedia?  Look it up.  Did you bring your textbook home?”
“Hunter has it.”
“Hunter?  Why does he have your textbook?”
“Because he didn’t bring his home.”
“So you gave him yours?”
“You’ve always taught me to share.”
I sigh.  “So why didn’t you look this Athenian thing up online this afternoon?”
“Dad was on the computer.”
“We have three.”
“Steven was doing his homework on his, and the girls were on the other one.”
“ The girls?  What were they doing?”
“Playing Zoo Tycoon.”
“Where was I?”
“You had a headache.  And then you took that phone call.”
“Homework trumps games.  You know that.”
“Oh, I know, but you told them to find something to do since it was raining outside.”
“It wasn’t raining!”
“Yes, it was.  You yelled at me to come in from outside because I was juggling the ball in the rain.”
“I did?”
“Yeah, you spent an hour getting the mud and grass stains out of my new jeans.  Are you okay?”
“I guess.  I don’t remember any of this.”
He pats me on the shoulder.  “Let’s just get to this paragraph and get you off to bed.”
“Right.  They study the Athenians in junior high school now?”
“School has come a long way since you were a kid.”
I pause.  “I don’t remember talking city-states until high school.”
“I’m in the advanced class.”
“So why do you need help writing a paragraph?”
“I need the help of a professional.  You always say if you are going to do something, do it right.”
“I say a lot of things.”
“And I am taking them to heart.”
“Clearly.  Well, as I remember it, Athenian democracy…”
“Do we have any leftovers?  I’m pretty hungry still.”
“You just had a bowl of cereal!” 
“I know, but you’re just not making enough dinner these days.  Better step it up.”
“What did I make for dinner?”
“We had that white bean pasta again…not that I’m complaining.  It’s good and all, but you’re not making enough.”
“Should I be screened for Alzheimer’s?”
“No, but you really need to do something with your mind.  Keep yourself sharp.  Like more reading.”
“I read plenty!”
“Sure, but just short blogs.”  He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a book entitled “The Classical Origins of Western Civilization.”
“This?  In junior high school?” 
He smiles at me warmly.  “I got it from the library.  Thought you would enjoy it.”
“There’s something in there about the beginnings of democracy.”
I flip through the book while he stirs chocolate syrup into a glass of milk.  “This is pretty fascinating.”
“Told you you’d like it.  Now, should we get down to that paragraph?”
I glance up at the microwave clock.  “It’s almost 11!  What are we doing?”
“Oh, hey, did I tell you that Hunter was telling me that his mom was talking about how great you look since you got your new haircut?”
“Hunter’s mom said that?”
“Yep.  Says it makes you look 25.”
“Well, bless her heart for saying that!”
“Right.  So what do you remember about the Athenians again?”
“Well, it’s right here in this book…”
“I think I need an eye exam.  I can barely see the board at school anymore.”
“Really?  Oh, my God!  You never said that before.”
“I know.  I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Well, here, let me read it to you.  ‘In the Greek city-state of Athens…”
He hands me and a notebook pen.  “Do you mind jotting down a few notes while you read?”
I beam at him.  “Not at all.  Did the milk help,  or are you still hungry?”
“A little.  I’m going to make a sandwich while you read.”
I sigh as he opens the refrigerator.  What did I do to raise such an independent kid?

Monday, March 28, 2011

I Love You, Period.

I love America.  I especially love American marketing. 
We have commercials where talking bears have pieces of substandard toilet paper stuck to their bottoms.  We have commercials where men talk euphemistically about how a sugar pill makes their sex life more satisfying, mainly because their twenty-year old girlfriend just can’t believe the difference that it has made in his er, uh, size.  We have commercials where women sit around at a bridal shower gifting each other vibrators while their IQ points visibly drop.
Because of the openness of television, we can put condoms on fruit, we discuss Kama Sutra, and we talk genital waxing at parties.  We can talk about everything, save one thing. 
Why can we not talk about menstrual cycles in this country? 
I ask you.  Sure, sex sells, and let’s face it: bleeding like a stuck pig once a month really doesn’t ooze sex appeal. 
But then again, do I trust Madison Avenue with this delicate subject?  If I leave it to TV to educate my boys about a woman’s cycle, they are going to think that once a month, women watch Lifetime movies while taking commercial breaks to pour Windex into maxi pads.  Then they share silent, tearful glances and, while clasping hands, drive off of cliffs.
This isn’t helping my cause.
The Bible doesn’t help us here either.  In Leviticus, Moses kicks the women out of the camp once a month so that he and the rest of the men don’t have to deal with rubbing backs and going out for Tampax and Ben and Jerry’s.  This seemed good for a time, until a merciful God decided to sync up women’s periods so that they would all be gone at the same time.  God did this to help men see the errors of misogyny.  When all of the cooking, cleaning, mending, and child rearing went undone five days out of a month, Moses reconsidered, but the women stood firm.  As a result, no one knew about menopause until the time of Christ.
I’ve got guy friends.  A lot of them.  I’m married to one of them.  And we talk about everything.  Save one thing.  They can’t talk about periods.  At least not willingly. 
I asked one of my particularly open male friends about it once.  After a brief bit of hesitation, he explained to me that there is a code.  The only time a man is to talk about a period is with his beloved, as going out for ‘her brand’ of maxi pads or tampons can score bankable points.  Kotex, Always, Stayfree, OB, Natrucare, Tampax, wings, no wings, pearl glide, deodorant, applicator, no applicator, ultra-thin, super, regular, sport.  He must act like it doesn’t bother him.  And he must never bring home Midol unless she specifically asks for it.  This could be a Liz Lemon dealbreaker.
The drugstore has an aisle that many a bewildered man has paced.   My friend referred to it as ‘the wall.’ The wall is ever changing, never constant.  And it’s a once a month purchase, and they change the packaging up fairly frequently.  So you can’t remember what you bought last time, because she probably bought them the time before last. 
The manufacturers of feminine hygiene products got smart after the ‘wear a belt around your waist and hook a pad to it’ decades.  They  realized  that women will see a new promise on the box of a pad or tampon, become fascinated about how ‘this’ will change her life, buy the product, and be profoundly disappointed until the next claim of innovation.      
American women, God love us, are suckers for marketing.  Even those of us who claim to be diehards can get vulnerable in this aisle.  We buy these innovations in honor of women who stuffed their pantaloons with cloths as they traveled across the prairies in Conestoga wagons.  Women used to die a lot, and there were no creature comforts.  With every advance in women’s hygiene, we remember and honor their memories by ponying up at Walgreens.
As an aside, why do men never go into women’s purses?  I find this fascinating.  It’s like there’s something in there with teeth that will bite you.  Look, if I am driving, and my phone is ringing, and you are a guy riding shotgun – dig in there and get the damn phone.  You know who you are.  All three of you.   But I digress.  (I’m a little emotional today…three guesses as to why.)
I’ve come to accept my monthly blessing as a fact of my life.  And it’s true…I feel more emotional on day one of my period.  I’m crampy, bloated, do not feel like working out, and the littlest things make me sad. 
Like the realization that none of my kids are going to turn one again.  None of them.  It all has gone by so fast.  God, they are nearly grown.  Every day, a new milestone.  And every day, I am closer to an empty nest, where I bury my nose into old baby clothes and remember better times.  And WHO THE HELL stuck CHEWING GUM to my NEW DESK?  They think my office is a trash can where they can just dump their old garbage?  And look at this!  A dirty sock in my desk drawer.  I am freaking touched.
Okay, I need another glass of wine.  Clearly. 
In this postmodern age, look at movies and video games aimed at even the most passive of men.  Blood all over the place.  Provided that it comes from a gunshot wound to the head and doesn’t come from between a woman’s legs.  We can do violence, but not menstruation?  It’s a body.  It’s what a body does.  Bodies were never meant to be shot or gutted, but that is somehow tolerated.
I suspect that my open male friend was right: that men are afraid of their emotions,  that anger is a secondary emotion, and that menstruation represents getting closer to that real, raw emotion that they are so conditioned by this culture to avoid. 
So boys?  You know we girls love you.  Don’t be afraid, and don’t buy into what the entertainment culture is selling.  It’s just a little blood, and fun fact?  It’s red, not blue.  Our bodies are teaching us how to handle a little pain during childbirth, and we get to practice once a month.  We know that biology doesn’t permit you to give birth, but here’s what you can do.
Offer us a soft pillow and a drink.  Rub some feet.  Hug and kiss us.  Offer a heating pad.  If you’re young, do the dishes for your mom or sister or offer to clean out her car.  Don’t chastise our emotion as “being on the rag” because you can’t handle a little sentimentality.  Learn, instead, to embrace your own.  We will love you for it. 
And could you pick up a box of the new Kotex that now come in the black box called U – and look for ultra thin long supers with the Tru-Fit wings and the CleanSorb covers?  And some Lindt truffles – the black kind?  Grazie.