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God, Help Me! They Want To Help!

12 Dec

My husband calls me Thor. He does this partly because I am one-fourth Danish but mostly because I will try to do anything myself before asking for help. I move furniture. I haul wood. I reach for things on the top shelf.

I don’t have some “I am an island” complex, but I really would rather do many things myself. I like working hard and it feels good to be independent. Frequently, too, I’ve found the help people want to give doesn’t really feel helpful to me.

When I’m in the middle of making a big-deal dinner, say Thanksgiving, the last thing I want to do is find some job for someone to do. Someone comes at me with a “what can I do to help” while I’m in the middle of trying to strain the gravy and I’m likely to feel more irritated than grateful.

A friend pointed out to me, after asking how she could help with our Passover Seder preparations, that I was delusional. Preparing a seder, even a small one, is a lot of work. I said I did not need help. If my life were a western, this woman would be the rancher’s wife, ready to shoot marauding varmints right between the eyes. She looked at me with a “Puh-leeze” cock of her head and said, “You need help.” I felt her will seep into me and my head nodded in acquiescence. I accepted help. It was painful.

I’ve since developed a strategy that allows the helpful to help and me to keep my sanity. I plan in advance what tasks will be delegated and what things only I can do. Ok, that sounds really arrogant, but when I’m making dinner at my house, I get to decide who’s going to season the sauces and who’s going to set the table.

I helped around the house when I was a kid and I expect my own children to as well. Finding things they can help with that are truly helpful has been a bit of a challenge, though. My daughter believes it’s helpful to run a day spa in the family room on the weekend we’ve planned to decorate the house for Christmas. While my husband, son and I were moving furniture and digging boxes out of the crawlspace, my daughter and her best friend were coercing us into making massage appointments. An hour later, my husband was getting a massage in the family room, while I struggled and cursed to get a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles to look like something other than a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles.

When it comes to getting help, I may have painted myself into a corner with the boy who cried wolf. I’ve been so insistent that I don’t need help that I don’t get it when I truly do. Not too long ago, I was cleaning a particularly heavy and unwieldy fountain pump at the kitchen sink. Every summer, I convince myself that a fountain is exactly what our deck needs and I contrive one out of the variety of pots, tubing and buckets that proliferate in my garage.

While the fountains are usually charming, they generate copious amounts of algal slime. Cleaning the pump is, therefore, a rather nausea-inducing task. So, I was at the sink, attempting to clean the pump without regurgitating lunch. Pump clean, I transferred it from one hand to another while reaching for a towel. The pump fell on my big toe. It hurt. I have a particular string of profanities that I only utter under extreme duress. I’m pretty sure I uttered them.

Once the initial surge of adrenaline subsided, I assessed the damage. My toenail was crushed, awash in blood. I pushed aside the visions of blood and algae slime and found the calm center of my mom brain. Efficiently but painfully, I washed the wound, bound it with a clean towel and made an ice pack. I hobbled over to the couch to watch Food Network while I iced my toe.

I turned on the TV to find my son had left it in video game mode. Now, I could have hobbled over to the TV, fixed the viewing mode and hobbled back to the couch. No, I thought. There are people in this house, my toe hurts, those people can help me. So I shouted, “Help!” My son, I knew, was in his room listening to music. My daughter was in mine, watching Sponge Bob. I shouted louder. “HELP!” No response. “HELP! HELP! HELP!” I yelled. I yelled for about a minute. Finally, I gave up. I hobbled over to the TV, hobbled back to the couch and iced my toe while watching Paula Deen make something like pork shoulder donuts.

Later, I asked my kids, “Did you hear me yelling for help?”

“You were yelling for help?” my son asked.

“Yes. I was. For quite some time.” I glowered at him.

“My door was shut,” he said.

“You could have heard me,” I said. “I was yelling pretty loud.”

He covered his lack of concern by deflecting guilt to his sister.

“Well, what about her?” he asked and pointed out that the door to my bedroom was open the entire time. My daughter could well have heard me from the very first pitiful cry for help.

“Did you hear Mommy?” She looked at the floor.

“Yes,” she said. “But Mr. Crabbs was yelling at the same time, so I couldn’t be sure.”

“You didn’t think you should come downstairs to make sure Mommy was ok?”

“No,” she said. “I really wanted to see Sponge Bob.”

We had a talk about empathy, thoughtfulness, caring for others and being grounded.

This Thanksgiving, my son actually asked “What can I do to help?” He was serious; I was astounded. My daughter made our signature ground cranberry and orange relish, operating the food grinder by herself.

I’m not confident yet that I’d win out over Sponge Bob, but I’m holding out hope for the future.

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Welcome to the Library! Now, Please Shut Up.

7 Nov

Naperville is supposed to have the best library in America. Now, I’m sure that this ranking is determined in such a way that there are at least three asterisks. Still, it’s a pretty good library. There are three branches, all of them fairly convenient to my house. I can check out a book from any branch and return it to any other. They even have these totally automated checking out thingies that make cool beeping noises when you scan your books. When I go to the library alone, I get a secret thrill over not having to share the scanning fun with my kids.

We use the library at lot since we’ve been trying to live like church mice instead of fat cats. Just about every book or movie we want is there for the picking. Even if we have to wait a bit, the online hold system will let us know the minute our media is available. My son has assembled a large enough music collection that he believes he is entitled to an iPod with a much larger memory. I laugh at him.
Even with all of its wonderful conveniences, I miss the library of my childhood. It probably didn’t have near as many books; I don’t recall it being all that big. The catalog was kept on index cards. The music was all on vinyl. I have a particularly fond memory of my sister, headphones on, belting out “da na na na na na na na” for the entire library’s amusement while she listened to the theme song from “Peter Gunn.”

The fact that my sister could cause a ruckus gets to the root of my problem with the Naperville Public Library.

It’s loud.

The library my sister and I used as children was quiet. It was as quiet as, well, a library. One strolled the stacks silently. If you happened to be at the library with a friend, or sister, hand signals and really exaggerated mouthing of words stood in for talking. Whispering was reserved for communications at the circulation desk. Any noise louder than a sniffle was met with a “Sh!,” hissed from the nearest librarian.

Walk into the Naperville Public Library and you would hardly know you are walking into a library. There are people talking in the lobby. There are people talking at the library catalog computers. There are people talking in the stacks. There are people talking at the tables. And they are all talking with their regular talking voices.

This is how bad things are at the Naperville Public Library: there is a Quiet Reading Room. Having a quiet reading room in a library is kind of like having a coffee drinking room in a Starbucks. I understand why they need the room, though. People talk on their cell phones in my library.

When my son was little, we went to the library often. I would take him to the children’s department and read him books. See, it’s ok to read books—quietly—in the children’s department. Lots of the kids can’t read yet. Even when they can read to themselves, kids still like to be read to. I like to be read to. I don’t think you’ve had the complete Harry Potter experience until you’ve had the books read to you by Jim Dale.

At the risk of sounding like a crank, parents today just don’t care about proper library manners. My kids make fun of me when I talk like this. My son sucks in his lips and pokes out his lower jaw, giving himself an oldman-ish toothless grin. Then he says, “Back in my time . . .” It’s very funny and I get his point, but when it comes to libraries, I’m not bending.
Back in my time, children didn’t scream in the library, even in the children’s department. They didn’t run in the library either, or chase their siblings. Elderly patrons didn’t fear for their hips because a rug rat could come barging out the front door at any minute. And parents didn’t shout at their children to get them to stop running.

Back in my time, no one wrote in a library book. I’ve checked out books that I really wanted to read and found it impossible because some blockhead thought it would be ok to write in the book. Even though said blockhead wrote very lightly and in pencil, as if that would make it ok, my eye was inexorably drawn to whatever blockhead had underlined. Reading the book became an exercise in analyzing blockhead, pondering who would underline this particular sentence when I would have underlined that one. I knew it was time to return the book when I became angry that blockhead didn’t see the book my way.

Back in my time, no one dog-eared pages. I once thought that the books I was reading that looked like they’d been to the kennel were used books, maybe donated by some charitable book lover. Recently, though, I checked out a brand-spanking new volume that was still on the best-seller list. I know the library got this book fresh. There were dog-eared pages. For crying out loud, ANYTHING can be a bookmark. Sure, fancy bookmarks are fun but a magazine subscription card works as well. So does a Target receipt or even an unwrapped mini-pad.

I realize that everyone in Naperville pays taxes to support the library, but, people, that doesn’t mean you own the books, can talk in the stacks or can let your kids use it as a playground. While I refer to the library as “my library,” I know that I share it with hundreds of thousands of other people. Back in my time, everyone knew that.

Two Steaks, Twenty Dollars and My Mind

15 Aug

When I moved to Naperville, I hated not knowing where I was. Oh, I knew where my house was in relation to the major highways, but I didn’t know the city the way I had known Oak Park. To be fair, Oak Park covers 4.7 square miles directly to the west of Chicago. Like Chicago, its streets are straight, running north/south or east/west. Naperville covers 35.5 square miles. There are a handful of straight streets, mostly in the older, downtown area. In the newer sections, and there are lots of newer sections, the streets have been designed to curve and wind gently through the rolling countryside, I suppose to make up for the fact that all of our houses look exactly alike. Actually, there isn’t much countryside left out here and any rolling is manmade.

Naperville seems to specialize in streets that take you right back where you started. In my own neighborhood, there are numerous “courts,” or cul de sacs. You enter and exit from the same point. That’s actually pretty straightforward. More confusing are the “circles,” which are streets that have two points of origin. My husband, who routinely blew off our street when we lived in Oak Park, would appreciate it if we lived on a circle. Then he’d have two chances to get driving home right.

For a while after we moved, knowing how to get Target was sufficient. Soon, though, I wanted more mastery over my geography. With no lake to serve as a point of reference, Naperville proved a geographical nightmare.  So, I would get lost. On purpose. What with the circles, cul de sacs, unincorporated areas and streets that change names mid-street, it’s pretty darned easy to get lost in Naperville. Obviously, I always found my way back home.

I haven’t always been lucky in loss. Frankly, I’m a world-champion loser. I am resisting the urge to write, “Just ask my kids,” but, clearly, I am losing that battle with myself. See? I really am a loser.

I have lost all kinds of things. Recently, I lost two steaks. They were big fat rib-eyes, grass-fed, that I snatched on sale at Whole Foods. In the pantheon of things that will stop your heart cold, rib-eyes are up there with an air embolism and Tori Spelling without makeup. I make myself believe that, if I buy them at Whole Foods, the good I do the Earth balances the evil I do to my body in a sort of personal health “cap and trade” program.

I got the steaks home and then they disappeared. For days, I rummaged through the refrigerator and the freezer hunting down the steaks. Eventually, I gave up, assuming I’d find the steaks the same way I found a pound of hamburger I lost when my son was a baby—by smell. But, the house didn’t start smelling like the stockyards on a summer afternoon so soon enough, I forgot the steaks.

I don’t just lose meat; I lose money. Now, I’m not talking about making bad investments. I don’t need to invest one cent to lose money. I lose money just by letting it out of my hands. The problem is that I don’t let the money out of my hands in a controlled, habitual manner. If I were to take money that is given to me and immediately place it in my wallet, I would not lose money. But I don’t, thinking that if I do, I will then spend the money. So, I put money all over the place. I put it in my back jeans pocket. I put it in my jacket pocket. I put it in the cupboard with the coffee cups. I put it on top of my clothes drawers in the closet. I put it in any of the three or four pockets inside my purse. I put it on counters, in drawers, in cups, in nooks and in crannies

I love winter, but not because the snow is pretty and covers up all the ugly gray drabness that is Chicago after autumn. I love winter because I find money in just about every pocket of every coat I own. The first few weeks of winter are like winning the lottery. Every day, I find anywhere from one to ten dollars waiting to make my day. So far, most of the money I’ve lost has come back in due time. Still, there is a twenty-dollar bill floating around the house somewhere.

I lose my keys, but everyone loses their keys. I lose whatever book I’m currently reading at least two times per day. I’ve found them all sorts of places, like in the gazebo, under the dining room table, in the car. Once, I found a paperback on a shelf under the sink in the bathroom.

Something I’ve never lost, though, is my mind. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder sometime after I had my son. I’ve been treated for depression. I’ve been treated for dysthymia. Never, in all the years I’ve been treated for my myriad of mental maladies, have I misplaced my mind. Frankly, there were times I wished I could. I was naturally curious then when I discovered iCarly, the kids’ show on Nickelodeon, would be airing an episode titled “iLost My Mind.”

I was warned that this episode would present a terrible picture of mental illness and institutions that treat it. Mental health support groups implored parents to boycott the show. Of course, my daughter wanted to watch it. So we did what we’ve always done when my kids wanted to watch something I was pretty sure was crap. We watched it together.

“iLost My Mind” is crap. I did not say, “I told you so.” We did talk about what was funny and what was not. Not funny: dirty walls with signs on them saying things like “Don’t eat the puzzle pieces” and “Friends don’t kill friends.” Funny: a male character dressed up as one of the other character’s moms. My daughter admitted that she understood that delusional people don’t act the way the characters in the show did but she thought one of them was funny anyway. And, we talked about how people with mental illnesses are a lot more like her mom than the characters in the show.

I found the steaks. They were delicious. I have no idea where the $20 went. Perhaps my son knows. And my mind? Firmly and permanently ensconced in my skull.

© Copyright 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

It’s Always Greener

6 Jun

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” the note said. “It will take time, but we can fix this.”

I knew there were problems. Hell, everyone on our courtyard could tell there were problems.  But I really didn’t think my lawn was so bad that the TruGreen® guy needed to leave me a personalized note.

The physical move from Oak Park to Naperville, IL covered only twenty-three miles. The cultural move, however, was more like going from a hippie commune to, well, to an All-American mom-and-apple-pie suburb in all its suburbity.

In Oak Park, where herbicides are only slightly less maligned than Agent Orange, my “if it’s green, it’s a lawn” attitude was applauded. In fact, if you’re not green in growing your green, you’d best not come outside until the sun goes down.

Mine was a typical Oak Park lawn. In short, I pretty much ignored it. It got mowed once a week, fertilized twice a year with an all-natural lawn food, and was watered when it rained. Sure, there was grass in my grass, but there were also some dandelions and a little crabgrass. In the shady areas, there was some Creeping Charlie and even some nut sedge. It was all green, it all mowed. It was a lawn.

In Naperville, lawn growing is a competitive sport. It’s not enough for the lawn to be green here; it should be a particular shade of green. A “good” lawn consists primarily of a single species of grass: Kentucky Blue. It’s really more of a dark blue green, but you get the idea.  The problem is that Kentucky Blue is the Naomi Campbell of the grass world. It requires copious amounts of exactly the right kind of attention or it does the herbivorous equivalent of flinging a flip-phone at you.

While a good Naperville lawn is a monoculture, mine is a veritable botanic garden of all that is low-growing and green. I’ve got Blue grass, of course, along with dandelions, some little creeping things, some other little creeping things, some ferny-looking creeping things, some thistles and lots and lots of clover.

I like clover. Clover is the right color. In fact, I think white clover leaves are an even nicer shade of green than Kentucky Blue grass. Clover has really cute little flowers. When I was a little girl, I made wreathes and garlands of white clover blossoms. My daughter makes them now. Clover is even an indicator of nitrogen—the stuff that turns grass green—in the soil.

The biggest reason I like clover, though, is the bees. Clover is perfect food for bees, especially honeybees. And honeybees are endangered. In grad school, I wrote an entire integrated lesson plan for third- through fifth-graders focusing on the importance of healthy honeybees to our food production capabilities. When I see clover, I see orchards full of fruit trees pollinated by happy little honeybees.

My neighbors? Not real big on clover. In fact, when they see clover, I’m pretty sure they see weeds. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if clover didn’t also spread so readily. One of my neighbors did not want clover in his yard so, in a pre-emptive strike, he sprayed my clover. He did this without asking while I was standing right there in front of him. Just took out his nasty Weed-B-Gone pump and blasted away at the clover on my side of the property line. I think I said something like, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. I’ll pull the clover out before it gets to your yard,” but I was thinking something like, “You presumptuous son of a goat!”

Well, the clover died. And left a very large dead brown spot in the middle of my front lawn. I left the spot there, hoping my neighbor would feel terrible about defacing my property. He never mentioned it. Finally, one day I began raking away the old dead foliage, preparing the soil for seed. Now, I may not be the best lawn-grower in the world, but I know how to prep a seedbed. I finished the raking, watered the soil to soften it and left the soil loosening for the next day. Imagine my surprise when I found that the bare spot had been seeded over. My neighbor had apparently felt guilty after all. He didn’t feel guilty enough to plant decent seed, however. This became abundantly clear when the new grass came in fluorescent green. He told me it would turn darker when it got older. It did not. It merely got taller. Eventually, I had a three-foot diameter circle of glow-in-the-dark grass in front of my house. Because the fluorescent grass was also stiff, after I mowed it, it looked like someone had stuck bright green toothpicks in the lawn. I lived with the toothpick lawn for an entire summer. My only consolation was that my neighbor used the same cheap, crappy seed to spot seed his own lawn. While I had a circle of fluorescence, he had little tufts of bright green toothpicks through his lawn.

The radioactive green grass has since died off, giving way to other things greener and hardier, including clover, but I’m thinking it may have altered the genetic makeup of my horticultural haven. Recently, my daughter came running into the house squealing, “Mommy! Mommy! I found a four-leaf clover!” Well, of course I thought she had smooshed two clover stems together to make them look like one four-leaf clover. But she hadn’t. In her hands, she held a perfect four-leafed clover. She gave it to me and ran outside to find more. “That’ll keep her happy for a while,” I thought, but she was back in the house in a matter of minutes. Turns out, one particular spot in my yard is full of four-leaf clover. My daughter and her friend even found a five-leaf clover.

I’m not a superstitious person on the whole, but I’m thinking the TruGreen® guy is going to have to find another yard to spray. In fact, the only way he’s welcome back is on his knees, looking for a six-leaf clover.

Copyright 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

The Stupid Files

9 May

My son grew up with better cartoons than I had. Oh, the Jetsons were ok and I really did love “Rastro,” but my son was lucky enough to be a ‘toon watcher when “Dexter’s Laboratory” was in its heyday on Cartoon Network. Dexter, the boy genius, was constantly vexed by his less intellectual sister, Dee Dee. In every episode, Dexter would tell her “Dee Dee, you are stupid. You are stupid. And don’t forget, you are stuuupid.”

I think I love that line so much because there is so much that is stupid in this world. As evidence, I offer the following. There is a road that runs east and west through Aurora and Naperville, crossing Route 59. On the Naperville side of 59, it is called “Aurora Avenue.” On the Aurora side, it is called “New York Avenue.” If you go north on Ogden Avenue from my house and you keep going north, you have to turn right to continue onto Ogden. Continuing north, without turning, will not keep you on Ogden. You will find yourself on Raymond as if you had entered an alternate universe. And, while turning east to stay on Ogden keeps you on Ogden, turning left does not put you on the westbound part of Ogden. A left hand turn will put you on North Aurora Avenue.  The Naperville area is not alone in street naming stupidity. There is a sign in Palatine, I’m told, identifying Meacham Road that reads: “Meacham Road road.”

Massive amounts of stupidity emanate from the myriad fast food drive-thrus in our area. I just adore those disembodied voices that don’t even say “hello” or “welcome” before diving into a guess as to why I drove up there in the first place. “Would you like to try the Triple Burger Death from Hell?” they ask. I am always polite and say “No, thank you” to their gracious suggestion. Some day, though, I’m going to say “Wrong! Guess again!”

A friend recently visited a drive through to order three two-cheeseburger meals, one cheeseburger and two shakes. Well, of course, the little video screen beneath the disembodied voice (let’s call it “DV,” shall we?) showed that my friend ordered two cheeseburgers and two shakes. My friend corrected DV; the order became three cheeseburger meals. My friend corrected DV twice more and the order was finally correct, but that is not the most egregious incidence of DV’s stupidity. No! Each burger had to be decorated with the proper condiments, so DV asked, “Do you want cheeseburger number one with everything: pickles, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayonnaise, and ketchup?” “Sure,” said my friend. DV went on to cheeseburger number two. “Do you want it with everything: pickles, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayonnaise, and ketchup?” “Sure,” said my friend. Cheeseburger number three got similar treatment. Finally all of the cheeseburgers had been decorated and accounted for. DV forgot the shakes.

My kids can do some stunningly stupid stuff. My son, for instance, can stand within arm’s distance of the back door. Should he open it, he could step directly out onto our deck. No stairs required and he’d be outdoors. Instead, he shouts to his father, “What’s it like out?” Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I wanted nothing more than to sit in my gazebo with a cup of tea and scan the news on my iPod. I finally got my wish and was glorying in a beautiful morning when my son appeared at the patio door. He looked at me pleadingly through the glass. I got up and went into the house, hoping for a “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.” I got, “What do we have for breakfast?” Now, this is the child who went with me to the grocery store the night before. He himself selected two boxes of cereal and a half-gallon of milk and placed them in the shopping cart.

The dumbest thing I’ve ever heard come out of my children has probably come out of every child in the world at some point. Hell, I’ve said it. “Are we there yet?” they ask. Every time the car has been moving more than 15 minutes, one of my children will ask it. They will repeat it. I have always said the same thing: “No, not yet.” I have, in short, been patient. The last time I was asked if we were “there” yet, something broke in my good-mommy brain segment. Smart Ass Mom replied.

“Dear child,” I asked, “what happens when we get where we are going?”

“We’re there,” said the child.

“Yes. And then what happens?”

“I don’t know, Mommy. What?”

“Well, the same thing happens every time. Mommy parks the car, I turn it off and we all get out. Now, has Mommy parked the car? Have I turned it off? Are we getting out?”

The child was silent. A few miles later, she said, “Mommy are we getting close to being there?” No child of mine is stupid for long.

The most consistent sources of stupidity in our lives, though, are the administrators of our children’s schools. They truly shine at registration time. Each year, for the past four years, I have been asked to complete the forms contained in a registration packet. Even though the first page of the packet is a computer-generated form, printed front and back, containing all the information that is necessary for my child’s continued presence at school, I am required to fill out five additional forms with the same information. I write my daughter’s name five times. I write my own name five times. I write my husband’s name five times. I fill out the same information on the new Emergency Card that I supplied in prior years. Ditto with the health card. One year, I pointed out that the school had all of the information on the cards I completed the prior year and that nothing had changed. Ah! But something had changed. They threw those cards away. They sent the un-completed cards back and threatened to exclude my daughter from classes until they received the completed cards.

Now, all of that sounds pretty darn stupid, doesn’t it? But, it’s not the dumbest thing that has come out of one of my kids’ schools. Not by a long, long shot. No, the dumbest thing that has come out of their schools—maybe the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen—came from my son’s principal. Apparently, the staff at my son’s school spent too much time delivering stuff students had forgotten to the forgetful little buggers’ classrooms. Henceforth, Mr. Principal announced, the staff would no longer deliver such items. Nay, he said, they would be reserving their efforts for “more poignant responsibilities.” Yup. He said it. All I can say is “Mr. Principal, you are stupid, you are stupid. And, don’t forget, you are stuuupid.”

© 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

Neighbors and Naked Barbies

25 Apr

I like to sit on the deck looking at my garden. Some people find gardening relaxing. I’ve found that looking at the garden is actually much more relaxing than working in the garden. I particularly like to look at the garden in the morning and especially on significant days. So, it’s no surprise that Easter morning found me sitting on the step of my deck sipping a mug of hot tea while I surveyed my yard. What was surprising was the sight of three naked Barbies playing on the neighbor’s swing set, which sits just on their side of the property line.

My daughter’s Best Friend lives in the naked-Barbies-on-the-swing-set house. In fact, the naked Barbies are hers. I wasn’t so much surprised to see the Barbies as I was surprised to see them on the swing set. They had been lounging on the chaise in our gazebo for the past week or so. Saturday night we had celebrated Passover with friends of ours we seldom see. They have a daughter who is close in age to ours. When these two meet, they form that fast, frenetic bond that only children who rarely play together achieve, as if they need to pack years’ worth of activity into three hours or so. In the maelstrom of their interaction, the Barbies somehow went from the chaise lounge to the slide and whatever you call that thing that two kids swing on facing each other.

I smiled when I saw the Barbies and I knew Best Friend’s mother would smile, too. We have informally vowed to leave the area between our houses fenceless so things like naked Barbies on swing sets can happen while the children flow freely from one yard to the other.

These are the best kind of neighbors. I consider them my reward because I also live near the worst kind of neighbor. Best Friend lives directly behind us. Worst Neighbor lives next door. Worst Neighbor bought the house and moved in with his wife and son. Every couple that has lived in the house has divorced and it wasn’t long before Mrs. Worst Neighbor and their child skipped out of the country.

So now I live next door to Mr. Single Worst Neighbor. Given the current real estate market and the fact that he lives in “The Divorce House,” I’m pretty sure we’re in it for the long haul with Worst Neighbor.

Worst Neighbor, being single, neglects many things in his house, most notably his dog. I’m sure the dog was purchased to appease Mrs. Worst Neighbor but as the dog is the Worst Dog, the purchase was for naught.  We’ll call Worst Neighbor’s dog “Lucy,” because that is her name and I don’t care about protecting her privacy.

Frankly, Lucy doesn’t need privacy. She’s the neighborhood tramp. One particularly difficult day, I was pouring out my troubles in a phone call with my best friend. As we dished and drank our coffee I was beginning to chipper up, until I spied Lucy on my back deck and my own dog on Lucy. “I’ve gotta go!” I said, “Pogo’s humping the bitch from next door.” I separated the dogs and returned Lucy to her home. She was out and about soon afterward. Pogo lay whining in his cage.

In an attempt to contain his canine strumpet, Worst Neighbor installed an electric fence, but did it himself and did it wrong. Lucy continued to roam the streets, looking for love. Last year, Worst Neighbor finally had her spayed and I held out some hope for a more peaceful life for us and for Lucy. It was a dark and stormy night when my hopes were dashed. Really. It was dark and stormy. It was night. And there was Lucy, whining at my back door. I called Worst Neighbor. He asked me to hold on to her while he finished having dinner with friends. We don’t call him about Lucy anymore. We call Animal Control. Maybe Worst Neighbor and Lucy will be getting divorced soon.

Much as Worst Neighbor vexes us now, he is not the Worst Neighbor Ever. I believe that honor goes to the neighbors whose back porch rotted after years of neglect. With no safe way of getting from their back door to the garbage dumpster, they simply dropped their trash out the door into the yard where it accumulated. Eventually, of course, it attracted vermin, which were then attracted to the warmth in our house. I found them frolicking in the laundry hamper one memorable morning. Exterminators and health department officials got involved.

My husband insists even they are not the Worst Neighbors Ever. To his mind, the Worst Neighbor Ever was the woman who lived in the apartment next door to his in graduate school. Or, I should say, “women,” as the person in question clearly suffered from multiple personality disorder. Every other night, just about 2 am, she would argue with herself, screaming and railing. Eventually, she would kick herself out of the apartment, slamming the heavy metal door on herself and waking the entire building.

Sleep deprived, my husband called the landlord, who refused to believe him. Out of desperation and sleep-deprivation, my husband took to calling the landlord every time the women next door kicked themselves out. The landlord caught on eventually, answering the phone and immediately hanging up, but never evicted the woman/women. My husband moved out six months early but his middle-of-the-night phoning binge established a life-long habit of relieving pent-up frustration through creative, albeit hostile, retribution.

Lately, the Best Neighbors have been dropping hints about moving, mumbling such selfish nonsense as needing a guest room for visiting grandparents. Our declining property values have forestalled what is probably inevitable, but Mrs. Best Neighbor assures me that they are taking us with them when they move. I hope this is true. I am far too old to discover what could be worse than living next to a promiscuous pooch, a vermin farm or the local psych ward.

In the meantime, I’ll sit on my deck, survey my quarter acre of the American Dream and ponder where the naked Barbies will pop up next.

A Shameless Mom

21 Mar

Lately, my son and I have been watching the Showtime series, “Shameless,” together. He’s not a very demonstrative kid. He hasn’t kissed me since he was eight and has to be coerced into giving me a hug. So, when he voluntarily bonds with me over something, I welcome the opportunity. We’re having a good time watching the show together, talking about the characters, loving the songs and downloading our favorites. The problem is, deep inside, I feel like I’m a bad mother for letting my son watch what is clearly a series for adults.

I’m sure other parents wouldn’t allow their teenage children to watch “Shameless.” It’s loaded with graphic sex. The characters smoke pot. The father is an unrepentant alcoholic and a con artist. The children do whatever they need to get by, including stealing an entire truckload of meat. There is, in short, everything to which a child should not be exposed. I remind myself that my son has the digital version of girly magazines and that he regularly locks his bedroom door to, I’m sure, avail himself of them. Still, every time my son and I watch “Shameless,” I feel I’m a bad influence on my own child.

Certain of my son’s friends’ parents would agree. I’m thinking, in particular of the parents of one of my son’s closest friends. His parents are fine, upstanding people. They would never let their children watch “Shameless.” On the contrary, I’m sure they only watch wholesome family shows. They probably have a boxed set of “The Waltons.” I’ll bet they don’t allow girly magazines, digital or otherwise, in their house. I’m pretty sure they are a little intimidating to their son. Hell, they intimidate me.

My husband thinks I’m insane when I tell him I’m a bad influence on our son. He points out that our son has similar values to ours. We happen to think our values are pretty good ones, though they are rather to the left of many of our neighbors. Our son’s friends were amazed to hear that he sometimes—ok, often—uses the “F” word at home but he is not allowed, under any circumstances to use the “G” word. Recently, a friend of his posted, “Are you gay?” on his Facebook wall in response to something our son posted as his status. Our son responded, “Why, yes, I’m pretty happy right now.” My husband and I were pleased. His friend was confused.

I worry about different influences with my daughter. She’s become quite sassy lately and has developed what my parents called a “smart mouth.” I never really understood that phrase. Wasn’t very smart of me to use it. It always got me in trouble.

I’ve been trolling other mommy blogs, scoping out the competition, particularly those who’ve managed to turn their rambles into cash. On one such blog, I found moms complaining about their own children’s smart mouths. They attributed the phenomenon to “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and its sequel, “The Suite Life on Deck.”

As in many shows targeting children, the characters in the “Suite Life” series sass talk the largely incompetent adults. It never occurred to me that the show might be a bad influence other than to convince my daughter we should be living on a cruise ship.

I started tracking her behavior following episodes. Damned if her mouth didn’t get smarter almost immediately after viewing a half hour of the show. I decided to follow the blog moms’ prescription and encourage exposure to a different sweet life.

The remedy was The Food Network. According to the blogosphere, kids eat up cooking shows. So we tried Food Network for a while. My children have never watched a television show that I didn’t watch with them the first time. This means I’ve suffered through Telly Tubbies, SpongeBob, Dora, Bob the Builder, Imagination Movers and some strange thing called “Bobobo-bo Bobo-bo.” I’ve pulled the plug on a number of requested programs but what I saw on Food Network was truly frightening.

I try to eat a healthy diet and encourage my children to as well. I buy lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, low-fat milk, yogurts. My son routinely spits them out then buys the junk he prefers with his allowance. I’ve pointed out to him that he is literally crapping his money away, but it doesn’t faze him. He won’t walk his dog, but he’ll walk ten minutes to the local Walgreen’s when he’s jonesing for a Mint Milano.

I’m particularly interested in teaching my daughter the importance of healthy food choices. She’s got more holes in her teeth than a block of baby Swiss and a sugar habit that’ll keep Willy Wonka in top hats for the next ten years. But thanks to Food Network she now has recipes for pink lemonade layer cake, corn chowder chock full of heavy cream and brownies the size of The Hulk’s fist.

I should have known better than to flip the channel to Food Network. I once witnessed Paula Deen cook a juicy hamburger, top it with cheese and a fried egg then place the whole works between Krispy Kreme donuts. Paula says she doesn’t eat that way every day, but geez, eating that way once is bad enough.

Paula’s not the only bad influence on FN. The Neely’s lay on the sugar and fat in ways that make their corpulence make sense. And have you seen Ina Garten lately? I’m loath to say it, but she is morbidly obese. I’m loath to say it for two reasons. First, I realize obesity is a complex problem. Second, Ina is apparently a very nice lady and has lots of fans that flame anyone who criticizes her weight. But Ina’s health and temperament are not my concern. My daughter is back to watching “The Suite Life on Deck.”

I feel a little bit better about my parenting lately. My son’s friend had dinner at our house. The dinner conversation ranged wildly from my son’s condom sandwich caper at school to the shows the boys watched when they were younger. The friend was gob smacked to learn that I not only knew the names of the shows my son watched, but I actually watched them. When I said, “What was up with the hair on that Bobobo guy?” his friend said, “Wow. My parents never watched anything I watched.”

“Woooo hoooo,” I thought and gave myself a mental pat on the back. Finally, something I can be parentally smug about. My son may make sandwiches with condoms in them. My daughter may clap her hands together and say, “Breakfast! Now!” But I’ve approved every bit of media they’ve consumed. It is definitely something to feel gay about.

 

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