Monday, June 28, 2010

All The World's A Pee-Pee Stage

This past week was almost like a sociological experiment.  Or a survivor episode.  Or some sort of test to see if I have the patience to handle another kid.  Apparently I don't.

My sister Amy (you know...the robot?) brought her three children down from Atlanta to spend a few days at my house, and from thence we drove 3 hours to my parents 'winter' home in Wildwood, Florida.  And while I really don't have enough time, space, or brain power to describe Wildwood nearly enough to give you dear readers an accurate picture of the place, I will say that they live in a mobile home retirement community where the two modes of transportation are either a golf cart or a lurching shuffle.  Oh yeah, and for fun on Friday night residents go down to the club house for the Early Bird special and a few hours of warbling karaoke to either Elvis or Johnny Cash.  Yeah, it's even more fun than it sounds.  And by More I mean Less.

So the ride down to my parents was actually kind of enjoyable.  My sister drives a minivan equipped with enough audio-visual accoutrement to film our own documentary.  She packed snacks that would have kept us satiated for months if, God forbid, we became stranded in the middle of the Ocala National Forest (since we were taking the way our father instructed instead of staying on the perfectly inhabited, safe and more efficient interstate system).  The older kids sat in the way back watching Return of the Jedi, my kids sat in the middle watching Cars, and Amy and I sat up front fielding the requests for food, drinks, A/C adjustments, usage of the potty, and banishment of other passengers from the car.  It reminded me of my own childhood, and being stuffed in the backward-facing seat with at least one sibling, crowded against suitcases, bags and other miscellaneous items, sweating, starving and slowly going deaf as the Star Wars soundtrack blared from the speakers and the hot road-wind roared in my ears.  Actually, this car trip was nothing like the car trips of my youth.  Nevermind.

We arrived at my parents house and proceeded to unpack, unwind, and release our five children into their two-bedroom, 1500 square-foot home, where almost every item in the house is an antique and has some interesting backstory that my mother would love to explain to you if you can sit still long enough or have the ability to sleep with your eyes open.  And yes, this includes the food.

My parents had already been babysitting my other cousin, and so now there were six children 9 and under, shrieking and clomping around the house, getting into things and irritating each other and making messes of pretty much everything they came in contact with.  I now understood why our relatives tried to keep my siblings and I outside as much as possible whenever we came to visit.  Even if it was Kentucky in July and if kept outside long enough some of my fairer-skinned siblings might burst into flames.  It seemed a risk my relatives were willing to take.

The most interesting part of this visit was watching Rollie interact with his older cousins.  His version of 'interaction' was standing in front of the TV while the three older boys were engaged in an intense game of Avatar on the Wii, and hitting them on the back when they yelled at him to move.  Luckily, my nephews had absolutely no qualms about telling me whenever Rollie misstepped.

"Auntie Bekah, Rollie won't get out of the way!"
"Auntie Bekah, Rollie just hit me!"
"Auntie Bekah, Rollie keeps saying pee-pee and laughing!"
"Auntie Bekah, Rollie is trying to stick a cracker in the Wii!"

Poor Rollie.  It wasn't that he was trying to be an obnoxious pest.  This was just his way of getting his cousins' attention.  Kinda like that boy in my elementary school who looked up my pant-leg while I was attempting to break the 100-second head-stand record and become a member of the elite Burnt Hill Road School Head-Stand Club.  I found out later (much at my 10-year high school reunion) that he'd actually had a crush on me, and being an obnoxious pest was his way of getting my attention. (Side Note: It actually made me so terrified of him that I gave him a 50-yard berth all the way through ninth grade, until fate threw us in the same English class and I discovered that he was actually very eloquent at delivering Shakespeare soliloquies.  Perhaps if Rollie recited some Hamlet to his cousins they might be more apt to let him have a turn at the Wii.)

Rollie did his best to keep up with his cousins, but there is evidently a huge gap between the conversational level of a 7-year-old and that of a 3-year-old.  I overheard the following conversation going around the kid table during dinner:

Derek: I bet there are big, humungous alligators in the canal.
Hayden: My dad caught one with his fishing pole last time we were here.
Andre: How did he get it off the line?
Rollie: Maybe he pee-peed on it!
Hayden: He had to cut the line.
Andre: Did the alligator still have the hook in his mouth?
Hayden: I don't think the hook was in his mouth.
Rollie: It was in his poopy mouth!
Andre: Auntie Bekah, Rollie said poopy.
Derek: He said pee-pee, too.
Rollie: Pee-pee alligator, pee-pee alligator....
Andre: Stop it, Rollie.
Derek: He's saying Pee-Pee Alligator, Auntie Bekah.

I just sat at the adult table, pretending I couldn't hear the pleas of my nephews to censor Rollie.  I figured if they can handle watching Princess Leia strangle Jabba the Hut with a chain, they should be able to handle a some bathroom language.  And if Rollie still has a hard time gaining the respect of his cousins, he can always brush up his Shakespeare.  It worked for Michael Lotze.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Private Ralph

I feel like I start many of my blog entries with the line, I finally get it.  Or at least, I find that phrase running through my mind several times a day.  Because it seems like I am constantly reaching these profound epiphanies, these sudden realizations and understandings as to why my mother did or said things that I had long-since chalked up to her being completely insane.

Why she often threatened to move out of our house (usually accompanied by the declaration that she was quote Sick Of It or had Had It; what this nebulous 'It' was I also never knew until I had kids.  It meant Us).

Why she often buried her face in her hands at the dinner table as squabbling, hunger strikes and my father's inevitable mad-face aimed at someone across the table went on around her. (This act would sometimes be immediately followed by her threat to move out.)

Why she kicked personal items of mine (books, sticker albums, flattened Cabbage Patch Kids) beneath my door as she blew by my room at 90 miles an hour (her passive-aggressive way of telling me to stop leaving my crap everywhere), or why she often closed my bedroom door as she strode down the hall (her passive-aggressive way of shutting me and my room out of her life until I cleaned up my pig-sty).

Why she obsessive-compulsively straightened throw rugs, placemats, hand towels, anything that looked slightly crooked or skewed (and my sister and I took great joy in making these things crooked again, then gleefully watched as our mother paused long enough to readjust whatever had been moved as she hurried past.  What sick little shits we were).  I find myself doing the same OCD straightening, and even recently yelled at Rollie for bunching up the hand-towels instead of smoothing them nicely.  It was my first real Sleeping With The Enemy moment.

My latest Mom Realization came the other night when I was awakened at 11 o'clock by Rollie crying pitifully at the foot of my bed.  At first I thought he'd just had a vivid nightmare, and carried him back to to his room in an attempt to tuck him in and return to my dream of Matt Damon in tight white shorts.  But as I sat with him on his bed and tried to soothe him, his cries became more pronounced, and I realized that I was about to be on the business end of a good old-fashioned cookie toss.

We made it to the bathroom just in time.  After a few rounds of puking, Rollie calmed down long enough to ask me why he was 'spitting up so much,' and I launched into a quasi-scientific explanation about how his tummy was getting rid of little germies that were making him feel sick.  Then I returned him to his room and laid him on his bed...and was kind of at a loss.  What if he started puking again?  I place his garbage can beside his bed, but that somehow seemed grossly insufficient (and I do mean grossly).  There were too many hard-to-clean surfaces in his room, too many crevices and carpet fibers for vomit particles to hide in and cling to.

And so I was reminded of my days growing up in a house with one designated bathroom for all of us kids to share.  If one of us came down with the pukes, instead of staying in our rooms with some sort of bedside vessel, we were quarantined to the bathroom, on a bedroll on the tile floor, where we spent a miserable night shivering and drifting in and out of consciousness.  In the mornings we were vaguely aware of being dragged, bedroll and all, out of the bathroom and into the hallway, where we'd lay like a hobo against the wall, wallowing in self-pity as our siblings carried on their morning routines, conspicuously holding their noses and complaining loudly that they didn't want any throw-up germs.

What I finally get is why my mother put us in the bathroom.  The last thing she wanted to deal with was cleaning vomit off of bedspreads, floors, rugs, awaked hour after hour, not only by the puker him or herself, but by siblings who had to share a room with the condemned and had to listen to the awful noises of said condemned unceremoniously barfing into a mixing bowl.  And in a family the size of the Brady Bunch living in a modest house in the suburbs, private space wasn't always readily available.  If you wanted to spend a quiet evening puking your guts out, you'd better be prepared to sleep on the bathroom floor.

Luckily for me, I had a lot of experience doing this, so that by the time college rolled around, I could puke and pass out on any horizontal surface on any given night and sleep it off....

So yeah, Mom.  I feel ya.  It took me 30 years, a marriage, two kids and one night spent on Rollie's floor and leaping up at the slightest sound of him snuffling in his sleep...but I feel ya.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


So lately I've developed this new personality quirk.  It's not something I'm proud my fascination with reality shows about the morbidly obese, or my lack of self-control when inside a Bath and Body Works store.


Seriously.  Total.  Scatterbrain.

It's gotten so bad I am starting to think that maybe I have a problem.  A condition, like asthma or hemorrhoids, and without proper attention and treatment, my condition is only going to get worse, until eventually I'll be forgetting to put in my contacts or put on my pants in the morning.  Soon people in my subdivision will be wondering why a squinty-eyed, half-naked woman is in the driveway, screaming at the neighbor's cat to get back in the house and clean up his Matchbox cars Right Now.

It hasn't gotten to that point yet.  Right now my Scatterbrain Syndrome has manifested itself in smaller, more innocuous ways.  For example, the other day I drove my children to the grocery store, did some food-shopping, made it out with the dog food and coffee creamer I was supposed to buy (and the forty-bajillion things I wasn't), and even the kids made it through the excursion with minimal protest (probably because their mouths were stuffed full of Free Cookie, Free Slice Of Deli Cheese, Old Goldfish From The Crumpled Package In The Diaper Bag, Really Old Goldfish From The Bottom Of Said Diaper Bag, and finally New Goldfish From Off The Store Shelf).

When I returned to my car and circled around back to open the tailgate, I saw my iPhone sitting on my bumper.

What the.... At first I thought maybe I'd dropped it in the parking lot and some kind, sympathetic stranger saw me do this and returned my phone to my car because he couldn't catch up to me inside the store (since I'm such a speedy, efficient shopper....Wow....I can't even type that with a straight face).

But I knew this wasn't the case.  I knew that the last time I'd seen this phone was in fact at my house, in my garage, as I prepared the kids for our excursion to our local Publix supermarket.  But even this realization didn't bring the memory of me misplacing my phone back in some epic flood of recollection.  I vaguely remembered holding my phone as I tried to corral the kids inside so we could hurry up and go to the store.  I remembered Rollie squealing as he zipped past on his tricycle, yelling for me to watch his new trick (pedaling his now too-small tricycle with one leg like some injured circus clown).  I remembered Elsa making a beeline for our flower bed so she could pick our newly planted annuals and bring one to me, proud as a cat delivering a freshly mutilated field mouse.  And I remembered threatening both of them with the refusal to allow them their Free Publix Cookie if they didn't get into the car immediately.

But I what I don't remember is placing my phone on my bumper as I directed Rollie and Elsa into the car, removed Elsa's shoes so she wouldn't bite them on the drive, handed them both an assortment of books and toys to keep them occupied for our three-minute journey, buckled them in place and shut their respective doors.  As I slid into the driver's seat, I had the sense that I was forgetting something, a nebulous-yet-ever-present feeling that has been following me like an annoying shadow ever since I had kids.  But instead of getting back out of the car and doing the nine-point inspection to make sure I had all important and necessary items, I shrugged it all off, started the car and left.

Thank God I drive like a total grandma.  I don't speed.  I don't stop short.  I don't take corners, lay wheels, grind gears, perform California Stops or anything that could be considered Hot Rod-ing.  I've never even been pulled over (knock on corian).  This is probably why my iPhone made it down the street, through three right turns and a left, past a stop light and an immaculate parking job without becoming so much plastic road debris.

Still....the sight of my precious iPhone sitting on my bumper was sort of a wake-up text.  WTF U IDIOT!

Why why why am I turning into such a scatterbrain??  If it's not my phone I can't find, it's my keys, my wallet, my sunglasses, the glass of water I just poured myself...good thing my kids are so vocal--surely I would lose them too if they weren't so freaking loud and whiny.  I just don't get it.  I set something down, and when I go to look for it five seconds later, it has vanished, teleported to another part of the house, buried itself in an unused pocket of my purse, or come to rest on the dusty bumper of my car.  Maddening, I tell you.

Jeff, ever the pragmatist, keeps instructing me to put things in the same spot every day.  That way I'll always have a place to put them when I'm done, and I'll always be able to find them again.  This approach certainly makes sense.  Put your keys in your purse when you're finished using them, so the next time you need them, you'll know where they are.  Sure.  Great.  Whenever I pull into my garage I should just drop my keys into my purse, diaper bag, beach bag, or whatever other bag happens to be riding shotgun at the time.  Problem solved.

The thing is, whenever I'm pulling into the garage, my kids are either in the middle of a screaming contest, or they're both asleep and I'm mentally strategizing how to transport them inside, along with the ten million other things that also need to be brought into the house.  Usually I don't have the presence of mind to focus on what I'm doing with my hands.  Somehow my car engine is turned off and my keys are removed, but I never remember doing those things.  My keys are shoved wherever is most convenient at the time--my pocket, my purse, Elsa's grabby little fingers--so I can free up my hands and brain cells for some more pressing task, like delivering forty pounds of groceries inside the house before everything thaws, the dog squeezes out of the garage door and runs away, or Rollie wets himself because despite his insistence to the contrary before we left the store, he really has to go pee-pee.

So yes, I am blaming my eternal distractions on my scatterbrained-ness.  It's not that I forget where I put things, it's that I don't even really pay attention in the first place.  My darling children have officially taken up residence in what little of my brian cells aren't already occupied by all sorts of useful information I've hoarded over the years.  Yes, this means that I still know all the words to the songs from my sixth grade musical (Freedom Bound).  And I still know the clarinet fingerings to much of March Slav.  And I still know the phone number for my middle school crush.

I would test the number right now, but I can't seem to find my iPhone anywhere....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Planes, Trains, And Matt Damon In Tight White Shorts

Last week Jeff, the kids and I flew to San Francisco.

Anyone wanting to punish a criminal, teach someone a lesson, prevent a teen pregnancy or indulge him or herself in any masochistic activities needs to hop a plane with a seat directly in front of parents traveling with young children.

At first things went really smoothly.  Rollie woke up in a wonderful mood, full of excitement that we would be flying on a big airplane, he would get to watch movies, sit next to Dadda and me for hours and hours and maybe even get his very own soda (currently the carrot of choice we dangle before him to stimulate compliance).  And Elsa was just pleased as chubby pie to wander around a vast airport, grinning at anything with a pulse and usually getting a return smile or compliment...or tummy poke from some of the more audacious strangers.  We were in for approximately 6 hours of flight time, broken up by a layover in Dallas.  It seemed fairly straight-forward.  Rollie had his own seat, Jeff was equipped with several movies on his iPad, we had iPods, a backpack full of toys and edible briberies, books, presents, a portable three-ring circus, everything we could think of to keep our two darlings entertained while we streaked westward at 500 miles an hour.

But eventually the novelty of being on a plane, surrounded by everything any child could possibly want, need or dream of, wore off.  "Eventually" in Kid Terms is after about ten minutes.

"I want to go home," Rollie said as soon as the plane leveled off at our cruising altitude.
"Honey, we're going to Uncle Matt's house," I said.
"I don't want to go to Uncle Matt's house."
"Yes you do, you love Uncle Matt."
"No, I don't."
"Of course you do.  Uncle Matt is so much fun."
"Why is Uncle Matt so much fun?"
"Because he plays baseball with you, and he has a pool, and he's going to take us lots of fun places."
"Why is he going to take us lots of fun places?"
"He just is, so why don't you watch your movie and relax?"
"I want to go home."

I looked to Jeff for help, but he was busy manhandling a very restless and suddenly Stronger-Than-Ten-Average-Men Baby Els (who had also recently discovered how much fun it is to scream at decibels never before measured on the Saffir Simpson Scale....oh wait, that's hurricanes....).  She was flailing and wriggling so much seats were being jostled three rows up.  But she wasn't even really crying.  She was actually kind of smiling as she found new and exciting ways to worm her way out of Jeff's straight-jacket grip.  Heads turned in our direction, but thankfully most of these people offered up looks of sympathy.  Obviously these were all parents, people who had been here, done this, and were now breathing a collective sigh of relief that they have moved beyond the stage of Traveling With Toddlers and clinking their nine-dollar mini-bottles of wine together in celebration.

Jeff's jaw clenched as he fought to keep Elsa from kicking the seat in front of her, but I could see his veneer of frustration turning to a veneer of rage (the veneer of patience had been checked through to San Francisco, along with the Benedryl I'd meant to pack in our carry-on).

"Want me to take-" My words were cut off as Jeff hurled our daughter in my face.

With this change of scenery, Elsa stopped squirming for about 17 seconds.  She discovered how much fun it was to take off her shoes, and then grunt at me to put them back on her feet.  And to play with my seat belt.  And to tear apart the foil wrapper on my pack of gum.  I am so glad I packed a giant backpack full of distractions for her. It came in handy for her to step on as she tried to leverage herself out of my arms and into the seat in front of us.

Halfway through the flight, Rollie started whining about going home again.  And Elsa discovered how much fun it is to antagonize him.  She found great joy in putting her feet on his arm, and giggling when he shrieked and brushed them off like they were a pair of sneaker-clad bloodsucking insects.  He grew so annoyed with her that he began kicking the seat in front of him in retaliation.  I hissed at him to knock it off, but at this point my threats carried about as much weight as an packing peanut.

Finally Jeff broke out the iPad for Rollie and the rest of the world fell away as he settled back with A Bug's Life.  He sat still between us, slack-jawed and content, no longer noticing Elsa's insistent toes digging into his arm.   Which, of course, infuriated Elsa.

Ever try to hang onto a greased pig as it squeals and twists in your quickly weakening grip?  Ever try doing it at 35,000 feet as you try not to wake the passenger in 26 C?  While the pig is in a poopy diaper?

The one saving grace of the flight was the in-flight movie on the tiny screen above me.  Invictus.  Matt Damon in a little rugby uniform.  Every time I thought I was about to lose it, I just gazed above me at his muscly thighs and adorable smirk and a wave of calm washed over me.  I couldn't hear the movie, but the eye-candy alone was more than enough.  I've never wanted to be in a scrum so badly in my life.

The trip itself was lovely.  We visited my brother, his girlfriend, and my sister Amy flew in from Atlanta to meet us, too.  (And believe it or not, she needed the vacation more than I did.  Some of you might recognize her from the cover of my book--she is the inspiration behind The Octopus.  She hasn't been away from her kids in nine years.  I keep waiting for her to snap, but so far she's been unflappable.  I'm pretty sure she's a robot.)

The flight home was somewhat uneventful, although I did get yelled at by a stranger for the first time in my life.  I guess Rollie playing with his seat-back tray-table wasn't nearly as charming to him as it was to me.  The poor old man must have been simmering over Rollie's antics for a good two minutes before whirling around and glaring at me from just over his headrest.

"What's the matter with him?" he barked.
"Uh...." I gave him the weak, Please-Forgive-Me smile.  But my Jerk Store answer was,  "Well, sir, he's three, he's over-tired, the time change has him all jacked-up, he hasn't pooped in two days, all he really did was open and shut the tray table a few times, would you rather hear him whine?"

Unfortunately, the trip home had no in-flight movie.  All I had was the memory of Matt Damon in tight white shorts to keep me sane.  Sometimes, it was just enough......