Monday, May 7, 2012


Upon doing some math, I can safely hypothesize that August must be a really boring month for most couples I know. Because they all have kids kids who celebrate birthdays within a four-week window sometime in April and May.

The doldrums of August is the reason I've found myself scurrying over to Target every other day for the past few weeks. Scrambling to purchase birthday presents for other people's kids. Were I a bit more organized and had more foresight, I could just buy a bunch of toys at once and be done with it. But you probably all know me better than that. My idea of planning ahead is boiling some water to make Mac and Cheese five minutes later.

The truth is, I really don't mind buying toys for other people's kids. I think this (like every other quirk I have) stems from my youth. When I was a kid, I generally waited until the last minute to let my parents know that a.) I had a birthday party to attend and b.) I needed to get a present ASAP or arrive empty-handed and run the risk of having the door slammed in my face, or at the very least have a gaggle of more-prepared girls giggle their asses off at me.

This possibility of arriving at someone's party sans gift was avoided one of two ways:

1: My father would reluctantly leave his post in front of his command-center (consisting of roughly seventeen NCR computers cobbled together, networked and wired up to provide him access to a very archaic virtual bulletin board visited only by other computer nerds of the late 80's) and drive me to the only place in town selling anything that even remotely passed as a thoughtful gift: Hallmark. There I would head straight for the mug section. Which basically consisted of one shelf with four or five different mugs to chose from. Because really, what prepubescent, mildly-indulged little girl wouldn't want a ceramic coffee mug imprinted with the truism, Men, Chocolate, Some Things Are Just Better Rich? Just think of all the uses! And when you come up with one, let me know so I can finally go to sleep at night knowing that I wasn't completely mocked behind my back. Seriously, sometimes I just want to find these people on Facebook and be like, "So....did you throw my mug in the garbage right a-way...or did you actually drink coffee out of it for a few weeks before you realized that coffee was stunting your growth, and then throw it away?" The lady at the Hallmark store probably wondered what the hell I did with all those mugs. Was I opening a coffee shop? Was I a young executive who needed a few pencil holders on my desk? Was this just the first step in a lifetime of collecting useless trinkets--soon I'd be on miniature spoons, Beanie Babies, Precious Moments figurines?

or 2.) Instead of living with the suspicion that I was the all-time worst gift-giver who ever walked the halls of Orchard Road School, I would sneak into my sister's bedroom while she was slaving away at Rodolpho's Pizza and find something that might offer me redemption. And because my sister had a job, was in high school and therefore one of the coolest beings on this or any other planet, there was plenty to choose from. One of my friends received a really neat pair of earrings. Another a Sweet Valley High book (but not number 5. That one I hung onto like other kids might a treasured comic book or their favorite baseball card. Number 5 was entitled All Night Long, so you can just imagine the smut-factor. The guy embracing Jessica Wakefield on the cover had a mustache. And it only got better from there).
Still another received a silver canister full of shimmery powder. I had no clue what my sister even did with it, but the very fact that she had it there, next to her three-way lighted, Conair make-up mirror and tins of blue eyeshadow meant that it must be an important ingredient to being undisputedly cool.

Fortunately the older I got, the more acceptable it became to just give the birthday girl or boy a card with money inside. Sure it was impersonal and kind of...strange. Like the kid was charging a cover to get into her party. But it didn't require a trip to Amy's Hallmark next to the Rocky Hill Grand Union. Hell, I could even make the card myself if I had to. As long as a crisp, ten-dollar bill fell out when the recipient opened it, I don't think it mattered much that the card itself was made from computer punch cards and decorated with dried-out purple marker. I even got in on the action, and made $120 when I turned 13. I think I had a party just so I could make enough money to go to the mall and get a few outfits (and pay my brother gas money--$15 for him to drive me twelve miles in 1991).

So now that my own kids are going to birthday parties more frequently, I can know they won't worry about bringing their friend a poorly-wrapped half-empty bottle of Designers Imposters body spray. Sure the toy might be made in China and break after five seconds, but at least it's not a mug that says World's Greatest Dad.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Panty Raid

My kids are nothing if not creative.

Take the Underpants Game, for example.

This game was invented last week after bath time. Jeff was still out of town, and I had shifted from I-Can-Do-This Mode to Holy-Crap-If-Jeff-Doesn't-Come-Home-In-The-Next-Twelve-Hours-I-Am-Going-To-Stew-My-Children-In-My-Hamilton-Beach-Crock-Pot, Serve-Them-Over-Some-Rice-And-Smother-Them-In-Shredded-Cheese Mode. With-Some-Apple-Pie-A-La-Mode. Mode.

So I instructed them to march down the hall, wrapped in their respective towels, all clean-haired and dewy-skinned, and get themselves into their respective jammies. And thinking my children can follow instructions as obediently as a well-trained German Shepard, I headed for the laundry room for some therapeutic folding. And then the chuckles began.

Isn't it funny how the beautiful and precious sound of your baby laughing eventually morphs into a sort of disturbing, ominous chuckle? The kind of chuckle that doesn't say, I'm having innocent fun and learning about object permanence. It says, I'm wearing a shit-eating grin and up to absolutely no good because mommy is preoccupied cleaning up a mess that most likely I made, and so for a few minutes I can get away with something unthinkably rotten and therefore a total hoot.

Me: Guys? I hope you're putting on your pajamas like I asked....

Instead of a reassuring chorus of We are, I hear silence. And then more chuckles.

Me: What are you doing?
Rollie: Noooothiiiiing.
Me: Why do I not believe that? You're laughing an awful lot to be doing nothing.

I cross the hall and find my children jay-bird naked.

Me: What's going on, guys? Why aren't you dressed?
Rollie (pointing up and looking rather proud of himself): Look!

There, hanging like a pair of deployed parachutes from the model P-51 "Cadillac Of The Sky" airplane suspended from his ceiling were Star Wars and Dora underpants.

Me: Ooooh.
Elsa: Can you get them down for us?
Me: How did they get up there?
Elsa: Rol Rol threw them.
Me: You guys are supposed to be putting them on, not throwing them around the room.
Rollie: But I'm trying to get them onto my airplane.
Me: You can't get them down once they're up though.
Rollie: You can get them down.
Me: I don't really want to be your underwear retriever.
Elsa: Underwear Retriever! Hahahaha!
Rollie: I'll get them down with Mr. Yardstick.
Me: Rollie, please don't.
Rollie: But it's fun!
Me: It looks like a total blast (I mean, come on...who wouldn't want to throw his or her undies around the room instead of putting them on? It's their own version of Animal House.), but that's not what you're supposed to be doing. Now please get your jammies on.

They obliged, and I left. And the laughing continued. Which, now that I thought about it, was actually pretty funny. I mean, they were just so...amused by this game. In my children's mind, throwing their underwear around the room was delightfully absurd. Here is a garment that is worn beneath clothes, hidden from view. Underwear is private. Something other people just aren't supposed to see. And there they were, tossing it in the air like cotton confetti, laughing like little lunatics. And who were they hurting, really? They weren't making a mess. They weren't fighting. They were trying to smuggle candy from the pantry or draw on the walls or take turns spitting water into the toilet. For a change.

The Underpants Game would have been relatively innocuous were it something my two children played by themselves. But it was apparently so much fun that my darling angels decided it was too good not to share. The next day a few of their little friends came over to play. And as the other moms and I hung out in the kitchen, the kids disappeared into Rollie's room, where almost instantly laughter of the shit-eating variety erupted.

One of the little girls emerged, the look on her face one of hilarious disbelief.

Girl: Rollie's throwing his underwear around.
My Friend: He's doing what?
Me: It's a game they made up. (And even as I try to explain, I feel like anything I say will only make it worse. It's like trying to explain away why your son has, say, a human head hanging next to his winter coats in his room: "Oh, that's my Jimmy. Never know what you're gonna find in his closet! Ha ha ha.")

I peeked into his room to admonish, and almost got hit in the face by a pair of flying underpants.

Me: Rollie, no more.
Rollie: But look, Momma. (He proceeds to throw a pair of Spiderman undies up, where the ceiling fan bats them onto his top bunk).
Me: Rollie. Play something else.

And then a few days later, we were at another friend's house. A friend who has two charming, well-behaved girls (one of whom Rollie's paramour), which means she has never had the delight of glancing out her window to see her first-born aiming his penis in the air mid-pee so he can determine just how high of a trajectory he can reach with his urine stream.

Her house has plenty of toys that even a 5-year-old boy can appreciate. And silly, unsuspecting little me figured that he would do what he always does when he's at someone else's house: Sit quietly in the other room and play a board game, following the rules, taking turns and being polite as a sweet old lady. Wait...he never does that.

So imagine my surprise when my friend's daughter emerged and said:

"Rollie's playing with my underwear."

Oh, Lord.

My Friend: ...What?
Me (again, feeling like I'm explaining his tendency to skin alive bunny rabbits): Not the underwear she has on....It's a new game he and Elsa made up.
Rollie appeared, a balled up pair of undies in his hand like he was in the middle of some slumber party prank.
Me: Rollie. We don't play with our friend's underwear. (That's a new one.)
Rollie: But it's funny.
Me: Go put those away and play something else.
Rollie: But they think it's funny.
Me: ROLLIE. No more underwear game.

Rollie looked at his friend and they both ran from the room, laughing all the way.

So at least they were getting along and having fun. Even if it was at something that in a few years will be really inappropriate. And in a few more years downright creepy. I would tell him to enjoy the Underpants Game while he can, but I don't want to encourage him....