Archive | January, 2011

Dogs, Cats and Other Demons

31 Jan

The portal to hell is right outside my front door. Just ask my dog, Pogo. Every time the doorbell rings, he begins barking, “Satan is here! Satan is here! Don’t answer the door! Satan is here.” He will bark at Satan while I answer the door, while I allow the demon to enter, while I take the demon’s coat, while I usher the demon into our home. He will even bark should I hug the demon. He will bark, in fact, until the demon nears him, then he will lie down on the ground, roll onto his back, tongue lolling, waiting to be petted.

Satan may be able to get into our home with just a quick tummy rub, but he won’t want to stay. Immediately after being tummied, Pogo will bring him a saliva-covered tennis ball and drop it at his feet. He does this to everyone who enters our home. If you are seated, Pogo will drop his saliva ball in your lap. If you are standing, Pogo will drop the saliva ball at your feet. If you are sitting or standing near the kitchen table, Pogo will drop the saliva ball on the table. Then, he will stare at you with Charles Manson eyes, eagerly and maniacally waiting. You will pick up the ball using as little finger surface area as possible and toss it to the beast.

This is your biggest mistake. You are trying to be nice. He’s a cute doggie. He’s so eager. What harm can it do to play a little fetch? And this is where he has you. There is no “little fetch” with Pogo. There is fetch until you bleed, but there is no little fetch. Once you toss the ball, you are his. Ignoring him doesn’t work. He will drop the saliva ball in your lap and if you don’t toss it, he will take it from you then drop it back in your lap. You will toss it just to get the gloppy thing away from you.

We have devised ways of having fun at Pogo’s expense. We invented a sort of indoor dog hockey that involves tossing the saliva ball into the kitchen. It is impossible for Pogo to get a good grip on the vinyl floor. He skitters and slides after the ball, legs pumping like a cartoon character. Finally, he catches up to the ball then slides sideways into the stove. I feel a little guilty laughing at him, but then I remember he’s ruined our family room carpet and feel a lot better about myself.

My son gets the worst of the saliva ball games. Pogo’s domain is the kitchen and family room, which run the entire back of the house. My son’s drum kit also happens to be in the family room. The first time he played the drums in the family room, Pogo dropped the saliva ball on a drum. My son threw it to get it out of the way and set about drumming. Pogo fetched it and brought the ball back. My son tried to ignore the ball. Pogo barked. My son ignored. Pogo barked louder. My son tossed the ball. There was a Sunday at our house when my son was playing the drums, my daughter was playing the piano and Pogo was barking to the beat.

Pogo is not our only pet and, while he may believe he keeps the devil out of our home, he is wrong. The devil is very much among us and his name is “Oliver.”

Oliver is our cat. We routinely say that he is the worst cat in the world. People laugh, thinking that we are exaggerating our cat’s misdeeds. All cats are a little rotten, aren’t they, they will say. We just nod our heads. We know. Oliver is Beelzebub’s acolyte.

When our children were little, we had safety devices installed in cabinets, on select doors, even on the stove and the toilet. Then, our children grew up and could be trusted not to flush wash cloths or eat an entire bottle of vitamins. We have had to reinstall cabinet locks, though, on cabinets that no three-year-old could ever reach. Our cat, you see, likes to open cabinets and empty them of their contents. One cabinet is a particular favorite, the one we use to store glasses. Oliver loves to sneak his evil kitty paw into the cabinet and swipe a few glasses onto the floor. We installed the cabinet lock and breathed easy for a while.

Oliver’s chaos cravings were not so easily thwarted. He discovered the pantry where many things are stored including his and Pogo’s foods as well as bottles of various substances. With a few quick swipes, the contents of the first two shelves rattle onto the floor with a cat-satisfying clatter. Now, we place the kitchen trashcan in front of the cabinet. If we forget, Oliver reminds us.

We used to leave coffee cups on the counter, back when we had twelve matching coffee cups. We no longer have twelve matching coffee cups. Oliver’s favorite pastime is pushing breakable items, like coffee cups, over the edge of the counter. I might understand this behavior if he waited around for the crash and splash. But he doesn’t. Surveying the wreckage takes too much of his valuable time. There are other items waiting to be broken, like soup bowls and antique teapots.

I believe Oliver’s issues stem from his traumatic childhood. Oliver was one of a litter of kittens that was being fostered by my best friend. My friend and I sing together. We were rehearsing at her house, in the basement. Our children, three of them supposedly at a responsible age, were upstairs amusing themselves responsibly, we thought. Also upstairs were the kittens. Upon finishing rehearsal, we adults went upstairs where we found the children in the kitchen with the kittens . . . in their pants. Each child had partially unzipped his or her pants and stuffed a kitten in them. The kittens’ adorable little faces peaked out at us as I uttered words I hope never to repeat: “Get the kittens out of your pants NOW!” Oliver was one of those kittens.

We do have a pet that is much more to my liking. It is a fish. It lives in a tank that has achieved perfect fish tank balance. There is a fish, a plant and a bunch of snails. I add water now and then. I feed the fish now and then. While Oliver and Pogo are technically my son’s pets, the fish is my daughter’s. She complains that she should have a pet with fur because it’s impossible to hug a fish. “No,” I think, “You can’t really hug a fish.” But a fish has got it all over a furry pet. You can flush a fish.

Green Eyed Lady

24 Jan

I wasn’t particularly well liked as a child. I was a geek. While other children were outside playing, I was inside reading the encyclopedia. I particularly liked the entries on dogs and flowers, but I read just about every page. I didn’t leave it at that though. I assumed all of the children were reading the encyclopedia when they weren’t outside. I actually told other children that I read the encyclopedia and then I told them what I had learned. I quickly discovered that the other children were not reading the encyclopedia. Every time I cried on my mother’s shoulder about the other children’s derision, my mother would say the same thing. “Oh, honey. They’re just jealous.” Jealous? Of me? The encyclopedia-reading know-it-all? “Could it possibly be true?” I thought.

Well, of course it wasn’t true. The children were unkind to me because I was an insufferable know-it-all. By the time I was a tween, I had learned how to pretend to like frosted lip gloss and Carly Simon songs, but the jealousy seed was sewn. Other girls took to bell-bottoms and blush like ducklings to water. I never managed to feel as comfortable in the teen uniform of my time as I did sitting in the family room, reading the encyclopedia, imagining all of the other girls jealous of my set of World Books.

Perhaps my parents’ insistence on treating each of their children equally fed the jealous monster within me. Every year at Christmas, my mother would carefully add up how much money she had spent on each of us, then would buy more presents for whoever had been slighted. When she was sure she had spent equal amounts of money on each of us, she would lay the booty out and make sure that the equality was evident. If it looked like one of us was getting more than the others, the present parity process would begin anew.

We became accustomed to things being equal at our house. If one of us got something, all of us got something. This extended to privileges, too. It started to breakdown as we got older though. I remember my sister being incensed when I was allowed to wear pantyhose in fifth grade. Technically, the hose in question were sheer pale-pink tights, but my sister saw “pantyhose.” Since she wasn’t allowed to wear hose in fifth grade, she was not going to put up with me wearing hose in fifth grade.

Many years later, as an adult, I recall asking for a Cuisinart for Christmas and being told that it was too expensive. Just months later, my parents bought my sister and her husband a dishwasher for their new home. I was not gracious. I believe I yelled something like, “She gets a dishwasher? I can’t have a Cuisinart and she gets a dishwasher?” in the middle of the Polk Brothers sales floor. I got a Cuisinart for Christmas the following year. I still have it and it still works and I’m still kind of ashamed of how I got it.

Though I’m older, I have retained my jealous ways. It’s a good thing, then, that my best friend claims not to envy others. She says she is truly happy for other people when good fortune smiles upon them. Of course, I hate her for it. She knows I hate her for having a lake cottage, too. When she and her husband bought the cottage, I said something like, “Wow, that’s so great!” but I was thinking, “Where’s my lake cottage? Why does she get a lake cottage?” I realize that I should have been thinking, “Cool! My best friend owns a lake cottage! That’s so great for her,” immediately followed by “Maybe I can stay there for free some day!”

I think my friend sometimes pretends she’s jealous of me so that I won’t feel so bad. When we moved to Naperville, we knew only one other family here. She would call me and, if she got the answering machine, accuse me of being out having fun with my new best friends. When I tell her that my son has called me a really nasty name and I have taken away his wireless mouse for a month, she’ll tell me that her daughter has called her a really nasty name and she has taken away her laptop for a month. She’s a good friend.

There is some evidence that I may be getting better at handling my jealous nature. I used to be so jealous of some celebrity that I couldn’t stand to look at her. I can’t remember who it was now. My sister, I recall though, can’t stand Demi Moore. I understand her animosity. You’ve had three kids, Demi, and you want me to believe you haven’t had any work done? Honey, you’ve had more work done than a Chicago tollway in the summer.

Lots of people hate Angelina Jolie because she’s beautiful, she has a beautiful lover, they adopted beautiful kids and made some beautiful ones, too. I can’t hate her, though. Look at me, people! I married an older man. I have a gorgeous daughter adopted from China. My husband and I made a beautiful boy together. Ok, so I’m not the most beautiful woman in the world and my husband isn’t Brad Pitt. Still, Angie and I have a lot in common. She hates Jennifer Aniston, too.

Throughout my life, jealousy has been my constant companion. Sometimes, she’s just hanging around the edges and I’ll get a little wistful over someone’s good fortune. Other times, she’s pulled up a rocking chair and is goading me into a great green funk. I’ve come to accept it.

Things have been pretty quiet on the Green Line of my life lately, but I see a storm on the horizon. Just the other day, a friend chatted me up on Facebook and let it drop that she was typing on her laptop poolside in Mexico. I’m shivering in Chicago and she’s lapping up the sunshine south of the border. The last emerald straw just may be the email I got from my best friend the same day, though. “Do you hate me?” it was titled. What, I thought, could she have done to make me hate her? The message was signed, “sent from my iPad.”

Take that, Tull!

17 Jan

Probably fifty percent of my driving time is spent shuttling my children to where ever it is they need to be shuttled. Some would say I’m fortunate that I have only two children to shuttle and that they have relatively few activities to which they need shuttling. It’s not luck. We’re too broke for them to do more than one activity each. I’ve also carefully chosen their activities. I never encouraged soccer or swim team, both of which require parental shuttling to exotic locales, like Schaumburg, at ungodly hours of the day.

Still, it isn’t surprising to find me in the car with my son, taking him somewhere. Frequently, I will sing along with whatever is playing on the radio. This shouldn’t be a hardship. People have paid money to hear me sing, and yet, my son repeatedly tells me to stop, saying he wants to hear the original performance. I understand this and so I stop. Recently, the reason he shut me down cut a little too close to the bone.

I was singing along, with gusto and abandon, to a David Bowie song I love. I was into it. My son wasn’t “shushing” me. Life was good. When David and I came to the chorus, however, my son exclaimed, “Ewwwww, Mom!”

“What?!,” I said, looking in the rearview mirror for the squirrel I must have run over.

“God, Mom! You are too old to sing ‘Hot tramp, I love you so’!”

“Too old? Too old for Bowie?,” I thought? Mick Jagger is prancing his wrinkly old ass all over stages everywhere and I can’t sing David Bowie? What am I going to do in the nursing home, sing along with Perry Como? When I’d calmed down a tad, I realized my son might be on to something. Mick Jagger looks really bad prancing his wrinkly old ass these days.

It’s probably fitting that my son should be the one to point out the age-appropriateness of certain activities. When I married, people had long since given up the ever annoying “When will we see you walk down the aisle?” Soon after marrying, my husband and I began baby making. This went less smoothly than anticipated but more so than many people I’ve known.

At one of my monthly doctor visits, I looked over my records while I waited for the doctor. The file folder they were in was stamped “AMA.” Each individual page had “AMA” stamped at the top. Several little pieces of paper were stapled to the folder. Each of them was stamped “AMA.” I spent the time waiting for the doctor trying to figure out what “AMA” might mean. “American Medical Association” came to mind, but why would the AMA care about my little pregnancy? Then “Against Medical Advice” popped into my head, but I would have remembered being told not to get pregnant. So, I asked the doctor what AMA meant. “Oh, ‘advanced maternal age’,” she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

My AMA, and my husband’s APA, weren’t so obvious when we lived in Oak Park. Lots and lots of families in Oak Park were built through adoption, which tends to be a choice made by older parents. My son’s best friend in Oak Park was adopted. My daughter attended a daycare that was run by a woman who had adopted from China. Most of her little charges, like my daughter, were also adopted from China.

My best friend, who I met in church in Oak Park, has two daughters from China. One of them is my god-daughter. We’ll call her “Gracie.” One day, my friend was in her yard raking leaves. A boy rode his bike past the house once or twice, eyeing my friend suspiciously. Eventually, he stopped and said to her, “Does Gracie live here?” “Yes, she does,” said my friend, “I’m her mother.” “You can’t be her mother,” the boy said. “Why?” my friend asked, “because I’m white?” “No,” the boy said, “because you’re old.”

My son thinks I’m too old to call the woman in that story my best friend. “You’ve outgrown having a best friend, Mom.” I asked him what it was I was supposed to call my best friend, her being my best friend and all.

“You can call her your close friend. After you reach thirty-five, you shouldn’t use ‘best friend’.”

“What’s wrong with calling her my best friend?” I insisted. “She’s my closest friend. She makes me laugh. I make her laugh. She’s going to help me hide your dead body!”

She may help me hide my husband’s dead body, too. He thinks I’m too old for glitter nail polish. My niece, who owns the glitter nail polish and is twenty-two years old, does not believe I am too old for it. The night I put it on because it just happened to be there, I also just happened to be drinking champagne. It looked great! The next day, while I was drinking my morning tea, I decided my husband was probably right. But, I reserve the right to dig into my daughter’s polish supply on New Year’s Eve.

I know I’m too old for mini-skirts and leather pants. Never really wanted leather pants, but I wore my share of mini-skirts. I’ve watched enough episodes of “What Not To Wear” to know that I should not dress like my daughter, so the mini-skirts went to the Goodwill some time ago. I’m also aware that bikinis are out of reach for me. I never wore them when I was younger, believing the maillot to be much more chic. I’m still convinced a one-piece is the fashionable woman’s choice and I am nothing if not fashionable. Ok, I’m not so fashionable most of the time, but I’m rockin’ the one-piece at the Naperville beach!

My daughter pointed out that there are things that I am too young for, like a wheel chair. I’m also too young for gray hair. Fortunately, during this phase of monetary deprivation, my hair has been tremendously cooperative. Should too many grays begin to surface, though, we’ll be giving up meat to pay for my hair coloring. I’m too young for those AARP solicitations I keep getting, too. I’m glad that my husband isn’t, though. We could really use the discounts.

I am also, most definitely, too young to die and I’ll be damned if I’m too old to rock and roll. When you come to the nursing home to visit in 30 years, it’ll be easy to find me. Just look for the little old lady singing, “Hot tramp! I love you so.”

Tidy, Whitie!

10 Jan

When I graduated from college, I moved back home but I couldn’t wait to get out of what I saw as my mother’s house.  I moved out on my own as soon as possible and never moved back. I’ve been a homeowner for nearly 20 years now and a mother for more than 15. I can say with all honesty that I would give my wood-burning fireplace and my private master bathroom to live in my mother’s home again. My mother’s home was immaculate; my home is, as we say, a pig mess.

Coats were hung in my mother’s home. Counters were clear in my mother’s home. Floors were grit- and stain-free in my mother’s home. Chrome shined in my mother’s home. My home? Not so much. There are sweatshirts lying on the couch and jackets hung from the backs of chairs. Papers are stacked in a precarious pile on the kitchen counter. While the dog patrols the kitchen floor, he doesn’t do it for aesthetic reasons. No. My home is decidedly a pig mess.

I’m not proud of my pig mess, but I’m really at a loss as to how to eliminate it. If I knew what my mother’s secret was I would use it. My mother worked, had kids, had friends, took lessons, even had hobbies. In short, we aren’t talking June Cleaver here. The problem is, I don’t remember what my mother did.

I have no idea how my mother got the house clean or even when she got the house clean. I don’t recall her dancing around the living room with a dust rag and a can of Pledge singing the “Lemon Tree” song. I saw Santa Claus more often than I saw Mr. Clean. I never saw my mother with a mop in her hands. I have no idea how the toilets got clean. I have no memory of my mother cleaning anything other than my mouth out with soap over sassing back.

I never thought of myself as a pig. When I lived alone, there was the occasional “oops, I left the dirty dishes in the sink while I went out of town” thing, but I generally lived in a clean, neat environment. Even after I got married, our home was usually clean, certainly never embarrassing.

Then we had a child. Children themselves are small, particularly when they are infants. They fit in your arms quite nicely. They can easily be carried around in a carrier or sling or duffle bag or whatever the hell kind of thing babies get carried around in when you happen to have your baby.

The problem with children, obviously, is the stuff that comes with them. Eventually, you move into the “stuff goes in but never goes out” phase of parenting. Sure, the kids outgrow things and things break, but new stuff comes in. Our son has outgrown the toys with itty-bitty parts phase, just in time for our daughter to enter it. Now, instead of stepping on Legos in the middle of the night, we step on Littlest Pet Shop figures. Both are equally painful. Our son hasn’t given up hoarding, though. Once, we couldn’t get our son to bathe enough. Now, he bathes every day, using a clean dry towel from the linen closet each time and depositing said towel on his bedroom floor.

I fear my children’s slovenly habits have influenced me. I no longer leave just my shoes lying around. Now, I leave papers on the counter where I’ll see them and remember to do whatever it is the paper reminded me to do. Right now, there are two checks, a note from my daughter’s dentist, three library books, a magazine renewal form, liner notes from two CDs and a recipe all sitting in a pile by the telephone where I will see them and remember to deposit the checks, call the dentist, go to the library, renew the magazine, put away the liner notes and get the ingredients for the recipe. The pile has been there for two weeks. There is similarly justified clutter throughout the house.

I used to say that I was tired, I was busy, I had two kids, I was in grad school. . . all to excuse my pig mess. But, I’m no longer in grad school and I’m not particularly tired. I still have two kids and I’m kind of busy, but I don’t really think those excuses can fly anymore.

See, my neighbor has two kids and she’s pretty busy and her house looks great. All the time. I would really like to hate her, but I can’t. She’s a great neighbor and she doesn’t flaunt the fact that her house looks great. In fact, she doesn’t think it looks so great at all. That is probably why it always looks good.

I think another reason her house always looks great is she cleans it. In the summer, I like to sit in my gazebo with a cup of tea in the morning and read the newspaper. Sometimes, when I finish the newspaper, I’ll refill my cup. Then, I’ll need something else to read, so I’ll go get a paperback. I’ll sit in the gazebo, drink my second cup of tea and read my book. Then, I’ll hear a sort of whining noise coming from the neighbor’s house. It sounds familiar. I focus on it and realize my neighbor is vacuuming her house. “Hm,” I think. “Maybe I should vacuum something. Maybe at the end of this chapter.” You know the rest.

One day, I decided that my house was messy because I didn’t put my things away, thereby giving my children the idea that they didn’t need to put their things away either. So, I have been putting my things away. I cleared the space next to my bed of a shopping bag full of paperbacks, several out of date magazines, a pair of shoes I thought were lost and six half-finished knitting projects. I successfully broke the habit of putting things on the steps rather putting them away immediately. I have gotten myself down to one pile of junk in the kitchen. My kids are still slobs.

I will never know how my mother did it. I’m sure it involved lots of cleaning and straightening that I will probably never master. I know this means that I will never live in a home like my mother’s. When I have that hankering for the peace and calm that a tidy home provides, though, I’ll go knocking on my neighbor’s door. I promise to wipe my feet on the doormat.

Take A Letter

3 Jan

I do not make New Year’s resolutions as a rule. It’s not that I don’t like resolutions. I think resolutions are fine things and I make them. I just don’t tie them to January 1. I have already committed to running a 5K race in 2011. I’ve told several people and I even posted it on my Facebook wall. Anyone who wants to join me is welcome. There are a few other things that I’ve promised myself I will make happen in 2011, but I decided on them months ago.

I’m more inclined to reflect back on the year that has passed. This year, I find that a lot of people really ticked me off. Unfortunately, most of them are people I don’t know. Some of them I’ve never even seen. I know, though, that these people didn’t bug the crap out of just me. In the interest of letting go of my ire and beginning the new year afresh, I offer this open letter to the most egregiously anti-social people I encountered this year.

To the grandfather at the hotel swimming pool who deposited four children under the age of six into the water then sat poolside with his coffee: Gramps, I am an excellent swimmer. My daughter is not, ergo, when she swims, I swim. I noticed that not one of the children you put in the pool could swim. Newsflash, Grandpa. A floating noodle is a very poor lifeguard. So, put down your coffee and get in the water. While you’re at it, grab the other adults on the pool deck and get their butts in the water, too. It gets lonely being the only adult in a pool full of potential drowning victims.

To the woman in the carpool: Lady, what part of “don’t get out of your car” do you not get? Your child does not need one last hug. Your child does not need you to hand her her backpack. Even a three-year-old can walk to a classroom, take off his coat, put away his backpack, get to his seat and start his day without any help from anyone. The person with the separation anxiety here is you, not your kid.

To the other woman in the carpool: The “no left turn” sign applies to you, too. It’s not optional. That’s why the “no” is in BIG BOLD LETTERS. You do realize that the line of cars waiting to turn into the lot is growing longer and longer because of you, right? People are honking at you because they are angry with you, not because they applaud your decision to declare your independence and flout the carpool rules.

To the person who owns the Sienna parked in the spot reserved for fuel-efficient vehicles: Wow! Lucky you! When I owned a Sienna, just last year, the best I ever got out of it was 19 mpg. Either Toyota has radically changed the Sienna engine, or you’ve got some really big. . . huevos. I can understand your confusion. I’m sure you get better mileage than the Jeep Grand Cherokee that was parked there last week.

To the person who owns the Odyssey parked in the spot reserved for compact cars: I fear you are either stupid or blind. The “mini” in minivan is a relative term. You own a minivan, a smaller version of a full-size van. Just as a mini-elephant would still be an elephant, your minivan is still a van. I believe though, that you are blind. There is a sign in front of your car. It says, “Rear must not protude beyond white line.” Just a thought here, but maybe you shouldn’t be driving if you can’t see the BIG WHITE LINE your car’s rear is protruding beyond.

To the clerk who puts the price tag over the directions on the package: I was standing at the end of the line when they were handing out X-ray vision. How can I tell if I want to pay the price you’ve plastered all over the item if I can’t read how to use the item? Oh, and tell your buddies at the newspaper that I can’t read through the ads they sticker over the headlines, either.

To the guy on the treadmill next to me: I promise not to sing along with Selena Gomez if you promise to stop grunting. People are looking at you, dude. They’re worried. They think you’re going to drop any minute.

To the other guy on the treadmill next to me: I promise not to complain about grunting guy if you promise to never run next to me again. One word, man: Mitchum.

To the woman who loves the Lucy running vest with the bow under the hood: You say you only run in skirts? And you’ve been looking for something “girlie” to wear with them? Look, Girlie. There is no “girlie” in running. When I run, I wear bright colors so that they match the colors in my face. If there were a moisture-wicking running burqa, I’d be all over that. The only other person I know who runs in skirts and wants a hoodie with bows is my eight-year-old daughter.

Finally, to the people who read my blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is a great pleasure bringing you my thoughts every week. I resolve to keep doing it in 2011. May the coming year be one of peace and prosperity for all of us.

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