Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Don't go making waterfalls

In case you've contacted me today and are wondering why I'm taking even longer than usual to reply, let me provide you with an illustration, drawn by my son this morning:

That's him and me. He's got the frown and the cascade emanating from his mouth; I, the smile (because I'm "nice," he says; which makes sense because I'm certainly not happy -- I take about as much delight in this situation as I would in being audited by the IRS while the IRS is being represented by my least favorite teacher from seventh grade, who resembles a shorter, fatter Mommie-Dearest Dunaway on a particularly bad day -- while we're both on our periods). I also have a branched wrist, apparently, so I can both hold his germ-infested paw and offer a continually re-chilled washcloth. The alien at our feet is our cat, who sat by David's side all night and morning and alerted us like some kind of feline Lassie every time he stirred. Which is cute, except when he's just stirring and I want to be sleeping.

So that's what I've been up to today. He started the fun last night by producing a very believable recreation of Niagara Falls (only tinged cherry-Pop-Tart pink) in the bathroom and then holding a repeat performance, and another, and another. He finally retired, and we were only treated to one Linda Blair-esque episode, so that's something.

I was going to post another question post, and probably will later. For now, you can have my questions du jour to tide you over.

  • How does a thimble's worth of liquid turn into seventeen gallons in the stomach of a seven-year-old boy?
  • Is there a way to suspend a person in a mid-air forcefield while he sleeps so you don't have to, say, get up at 3 in the morning to groggily lug a wad of puked-on bedding downstairs; and so that you don't feel something seeping up your arm toward you elbow and this time you actually hope it's pee? I mean, just for example.
  • Anyone know of a way to force a grown man to do his share of pukey kid duty? Or how to find him, for that matter?
  • Can you safely spray Lysol on a cat?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I read this article yesterday in the thirty seconds the Internet wasn't being monopolized, 25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You. My first instinct was to nod smugly to myself, even though I have recently written such a list. Yeah, they are dumb. Look at us; you can see the degradation of intellectual interaction and of real, relevant communication.

But that lasted about a second. For one, I couldn't feel too superior. I did one, after all, and now the world (or anyone who cares to read it) knows I once forgot to wear pants to class. So yeah.

But also, I quite love lists. There something poetic in the enumeration of items that, by themselves, would be trivial or superfluous; but as a whole, paint a picture that's more complete and relevant than you could've otherwise gotten. There's something beautiful in the placement of silly items (Subway gave me peppers instead of onions. It ruined my night) next to deep, meaningful ones (I never told my mother I loved her). I'm kind of addicted to the whole phenomenon. I know we need longer, for-real deep items in our lives for good. I kind of hate Twitter (which, apparently, is evil) and other micro-info things. It makes me feel like my brain's been scribbled on or something. But these lists, and other lists, are an exercise in thinking. What do you put on a list? What makes the cut? What gets included under your narrow heading of a premise? What do you share with others? What have you accomplished? What would you like to accomplish?

The last few days have called for lists. There's been so much going on -- some really good, some really not -- that I feel like I can't get a handle on it all.

I used to hate lists, or at least I thought I did. My mom would write them to the point of excess. Lists of things to do, things I hadn't done, when to call, what to pick up, what she was picking up and if I wanted something I'd better look at list No. 2 and call at the number she listed before the time she listed on list No. 3. Her lists to herself frequently included the item "Write list." She says she was joking, but we know better.

But I've caught the bug. It's therapeutic.

I hate:
  • That nobody does, or even rinses, dishes in this house except me.
  • The feeling, sound, or even idea of teeth anywhere near a Popsicle.
  • Myself, sometimes.

I love:
  • My son.
  • My husband.
  • Cream cheese frosting.
  • Springsteen songs.
  • Rainbows.
  • Sleep.
  • Myself, sometimes.
See? already, I've discovered something about myself. I love more than twice the amount of things I hate. That's good, right?

In the past couple of days I've made:
  • Two cakes -- one red velvet, one carrot. Both with copious amounts of frosting.
  • Two batches of chocolate chip cookies.
  • Two batches of fudge, one with walnuts and one without.
  • Bouquets for my sister's upcoming wedding.
  • Tortellini.
  • Plans that I failed to keep.
  • Bread.
  • Frito casserole.
  • Myself a little bit fatter.
  • Several paper cranes, with my son.
  • This list.
  • My son laugh.
  • My son cry.
  • A mess.
Yea, lists! I feel so much more productive now.

So far this week, I've lost:
  • This list, twice while making it.
  • My keys, five times.
  • My cool.
  • An argument (due in large part to the item above).
  • A gallon of milk. (Apologies to the poor soul who eventually discovers it.)

In the past two days I've read:
  • A large chunk of Order of the Phoenix with my son. It's the darkest, most complicated book we've tackled. How is it that fiction so elegantly illustrates tough realities?
  • Most of Leslie's book, Let Me Eat Cake.
  • Terry Pratchett's novel Thud, which I found while unpacking straggler boxes and promptly sat down to read.
  • Much of a blog about orangutans that I can't seem to find again.
  • A book about condors.

In the past two hours I've read:
  • Several top-five-various-things lists on Facebook. (I seem to be more into reading them than responding to them, but if anyone wants to know a few top-ones, here. Farm animal: cow. Person I've been told I look like: Lisa Kudrow. Flower: tulip. Thing I don't leave the house without: Well, nothing. I intend to leave the house with my license, keys, money, ChapStick, pens, purse, cell phone and a million other things; but I'm lucky if I cover two of these.)
  • Mary's latest Nonfictionist, an interview with the inimitable Dinty Moore.
  • My uncle's post on the anniversary of my grandfather's passing. It was a fitting and touching tribute, and filled me with a host of simultaneous isn't-it-funny feelings. It's funny that I never can seem to remember the anniversaries of people's passings but always commemorate their birthdays long after they're gone. It's funny that, unrelated and just last night, I was going over pictures of my grandfather and father with my son. It's funny that I never much cared about sports talk but would dearly love some with either of them now. Maybe funny's not the right word. But you know.
  • A brief reveiw of Froth! The Science of Beer, which looks fun.
  • A bunch of things pertaining to an idea for a story I have, but which I'm not sure will pan out so I'm not telling (yet). But it's so fun: once you really set into something, become immersed in it, stories come at you from everywhere.

And see? I can't even write lists for long without telling stories.

My mind is a right mess. But there's some really good stuff in there. Lists, sometimes, bring it out. It's like Dumbledore's Pensieve in Harry Potter; it lets me take my life, break it up, reorganize it, and look at it from a once-removed point of view; which somehow, gives me a closer look.

I'll leave you with my son's list of activities on a farm recently. You'll notice cow poop gets a smiley face. Naturally.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Any questions?

OK, so I suck at blog features. At least, that one. The thing is, I suck at thinking of recurring things from which to draw for blog posts.

But here's a better one. This well will never run dry. Questions My Son Asks Me For Which I Have No Immediate Answer. QMSA... forget it. No acronyms. Just questions, verbatim, in no particular order. If you have good answers, I'm all ears/eyes.

This week's questions:

  • "How come you can't see a duck's penis when ducks do the sex?" (Yes, he says it like that. Apparently it's like doing the tango, or something.)
  • "Why do adults fight all the time, if we have to work it out at school? And why do they stick tall man up in the air when they're angry in traffic? That guy behind you at the light did it, just now!" ("Tall man" = middle finger)
  • "What does cricket poop look like?"
  • "If I really want to be friends with someone, even if he picks his nose and a big string of snot came out of it today at lunch, but he keeps being mean to me, but I don't think he can always help it, but it hurts my feelings anyway especially if he maybe did it during line-up time when everyone else was there and he won't stop, what do I do?"
  • "How many species have gone extinct since I was born?"
  • "Well, why can't I say 'Bloody Hell?' What's the difference between that and 'Darn it?'"
  • "How did Fred and George figure out how to work the Marauder's Map?"
  • "What if someone tries to kill you?"
  • "Can you dislocate your butt?"

Saturday, April 4, 2009

What I did over spring break

What did you do for spring break?

It's a question I heard asked a few dozen times this week, and not by my son's teacher for an assignment (though my son recently brought home a creature he drew, with phalluses for nearly every body part, which leads me to wonder what assignment prompts they do have).

The moms ask each other.

We moms drop off our progeny and then line up side-by-side at the playground fence, watching, waving dutifully and conversing in varying states of wakefulness. It's like King of the Hill or South Park where they all line up and talk, only the topics are less interesting ("Really? Sale on American AND cheddar at Fry's?"), and I'm sometimes even less eloquent than Boomhauer, depending on whether the migraine fairy has visited that night/morning.

I'm already at a disadvantage here. I parked next to a fellow-mother-acquaintance-friend this morning. She opened the sliding door on her spotless, scratchless, rustless, cat-piss-on-the-tires-less, brand new van and ... wait, no. She didn't open the door; it opened its-frickin-self, like some kind of Star Trek door. Anyway, I got out, helped my son out, and walked around to reattach the passenger-side mirror, which falls off about once a trip and thereafter hangs by its cords like some kind of sad, redneck ornament. We walked our kids in and I was happy to notice that her son and mine were similarly well-groomed, though I'd be willing to bet hers hadn't weaseled out of a bath last night and wasn't secretly wearing two different socks that only matched above the sneakers.

As our kids sprinted off, she smoothed her mint-green cardigan over a pearlescent blouse, and sort of fluffed it out over her Capri pants. I ... well, I don't own a cardigan or anything that could be rightly termed a blouse, and my calves' disobliging habit of not tapering at all pretty much rules out Capris. But I wore that ASU T-shirt and jean shorts. Her hair did this thing that looked sort of like an elaborate frosting swirl and sort of like an ornate piece of jewelry, but still left it looking shiny. Mine was in the ol' standby ponytail. Her feet were perfectly pedicured, slender little French tips to the last toe. Mine ... let's just say I don't have a desire to draw attention to my feet.

And it's not for an office; she goes back home just like me. So already I'm feeling less-than-successful in the effort-making department and wifeyness/momminess in general.

And then the bragathon starts. And let me tell you, guys don't hold a candle to our pissing contests.

"So, what did you do over Spring Break?" Perfect Mom asked.

"Well, we taught our martial arts class most of last week, but we made time to go to the Hilton in Sedona, after a ton of walking and shopping. They have flat-screen televisions there now," said Sporty Mom, who doesn't dress as impeccably as Perfect Mom but looks like what would happen if Angelina Jolie and Jessica Biel had a baby.

"We went camping. And hunting! It was great. Our youngest took his first big animal," said Renaissance Mom, who near as I can tell has done every activity in existence with her three kids. I was at the other end of our row, which was good because I was too tired to keep the distaste from my face when she described searching for a photo devoid enough of gore so her little one could show off his kill. I am an avid non-fan of recreational hunting, and tried to remain politely impassive as the other mothers voiced admiration. I passed the time entertaining thoughts of a Celebrity Death Match-style throw down between Renaissance Mom and PETA Mom, a mother from David's old school; and also by silently thanking the registration gods that my animal-activist son was in another class and wouldn't be scarred for life by today's show and tell.

The pissing contest continued. Disneyland (whoosssssh), Six Flags (pissss), England (foreign piss!), thirteen-kid sleepovers (actual piss! Beat that!), Tiki parties, day camps.

"So what did you do?" Perfect Mom finally asked me.

"Eh, we just stayed around the house mostly," I demurred. "Harry Potter marathon. Playing in the backyard. We went to the Riparian Preserve a few times, did some hiking."

"Oh, that's ... nice," one of them said. "Must be nice to just step back and stay at home for a change. Oh, did I tell you about the fusion food at that rooftop cantina?"

But it's not for a change, I wanted to say. That's how we have fun. Pretty much always.

Sure, about once a year we do the big-V Vacation thing. Sea World, the beach (which is way exotic for Arizonans), ocean kayaking (which couldn't be described as a vacation experience so much as an ordeal, at least the way we did it), that whole bit. We're looking at maybe going to Hawaii some time.

But most of the time our time off is, well, off. Relaxing. It made me think: Am I being too slack? Sure, overscheduling sucks, but aren't you supposed to want to cram as much into your time with your kids as possible?

That's the thing, though. I feel like we do that. We didn't really do much over spring break. We stayed at the house. Read a bunch of books. Watched a bunch of movies (or the same few, a bunch of times over). Went to the park, went on some walks, played in the back yard.

Or maybe I don't realize how much we did. I'm taken in by the argument that proximity-to-house equals loser-vacation.

We saw the sun set every single day. We found ladybugs and they crawled on our faces. We discovered a tree where the cormorants at the preserve like to roost, and we stood there as the sun set and painted the sky orange and pink, watching and listening to them squabble over perches and burp at each other. (Ever heard a cormorant? They don't chirp; they burp. Grab yourself a seven-year-old and find a cormorant. It's good for an hour of laughter, at least.)

We listened to the Canada geese honk as they flew in formation in the evening. We watched egrets; their white primary feathers forming aprons around their forms and glowing almost a painful white as the sun lit them; skim the water as they pulled back to land, necks folding and unfolding in graceful curves. We watched the light play through the trees and the impressionist flowers and grasses, and saw it hit on the glaring red flashes of blackbird shoulders as they called for mates. We feed the geese and ducks.

We saw Saturn through the local observatory telescope, looking as it won't for another fourteen years. The planet's rings are wide but thin, so as the earth passes through Saturn's equatorial plane you can see just a faint line as you get an edge-on view of the rings, and their diminished glow allows Saturn's moons to show more vividly. David didn't want to stop looking. He still hasn't stopped talking about it.

We pulled weeds, and pulled weeds, and pulled weeds. Which doesn't seem like a particularly great spring break activity, but if you happen to be a bug lover, and if your mom's lack of diligence in the yard has turned it into a conglomeration of every arthropod native to Arizona, it's great fun. We found orb spiders, aphids (which explains the ladybugs), rainbow-colored beetles, and grasshoppers in every color imaginable. We'd never seen yellow grasshoppers. We're watching a resident spider as she grows and molts and snacks on crane flies.

We had kicked off spring break with a party for my son's birthday, which was only attended by a few kids (the rest were undoubtedly busy getting passports or firearms), but was full of much sweaty play and cake and Transformers paraphernalia. A few days before, at his request, I had taken him to Chuck E. Cheese, where we spent 30 bucks to win a 25-cent toy and left smelling like feet and pizza, and he had a blast (despite the place housing his one phobia: Chuck E. himself, who, blessedly, never shows up).

We ate cheese sandwiches every day, always on fresh bread with cheddar, Swiss, AND American, the good kind, which was in fact on sale at Fry's. We drank the fancy juice that comes in boxes. We stayed up late every night. We looked at flies' wings and cat hair and leaf cells through the microscope and we played light sabers.

"Mom?" he asked the night of our last day off.


"Whenever I'm sad I try to think of you, like what we did today and yesterday. Sometimes when I'm happy too. Sometimes I think of other things instead, but then it always makes me think of you anyway. I like that."

We did nothing for spring break.

And everything.

He glows