Friday, August 29, 2008

Magic words of the 21st century

So it’s my turn.

My turn for the August Blogchain at Take a peek-a-boo over at Kristi’s The Mommy Writer and have some ice cream with her adorable kids, then walk off those extra calories by toddling over to Ralph Pines’ Neither Here nor There (which sounds like it might be difficult to find, but it’s not. I put a link nearby, close to your favorite chair.)

Kristi’s post made me laugh. Kids will always find a way to make wearing a bag over your head in public seem like a reasonable option. Her kids notice the resemblance a man at the ice cream shop has to Santa Claus, mine discuss in bright, clear voices certain noted differences in the male and female anatomy.

It’s all my fault. I thought I was being so progressive, my kids wouldn’t be the ones using baby-talk euphemisms to describe body parts. Listening to mothers and their children use the word “num-nums” to indicate women’s breasts or “wee-wee” or “pee-pee” or once “the little man” made me want to run screaming from the room. My children would know from the get-go proper anatomical nomenclature. I can’t tell you all the many ways that particular area of knowledge has come back to bite me in the buttocks. But I feel I should try, as a service and a warning to mothers of pre-verbal children.

Rule #1 Do not tell your son he has a penis.

First of all, he knows. He knows because he came into this world fitted out with the best pull toy EVER. Fisher-Price and Baby Einstein will never come close to inventing a toy this cool and so convenient. If you can convince the young prince to keep it in his pants, you’re doing a far better job of it than I ever could. The real challenge, however, comes when he wants to give a name to his friend and constant companion. Don’t be fooled that this is mere curiousity, it isn’t. He wants to know what it’s called because he wants to talk about it a lot. To everyone. Everywhere.

For Conor, the word “penis” had a profound and magical effect on his life. Not only did his friend finally have a worthy name but every time he said it in public, which was daily and abundant, his mother would a) turn color or b) start moving that shopping cart at warp speed or c) dive into the closest hedge. All of which amused my tow-headed progeny to no end.

While standing in the check out lane at Safeway, Conor came to know the awesome power of his best friend’s name. Pointing a pudgy toddler finger at the large man waiting in front of us, Conor says, “Mommy, is he my daddy?”

“No. He’s not your daddy.” I probably should have continued on to say that his daddy is the lovely, hard-working man who lives in our house, the one I’m legally married to just to soothe the looks of horror I received from the man in question and the old woman behind me.

“Does he have a penis too?”

In hindsight I see I should have faked a fainting spell right there. Maybe if I had fallen to the ground or spontaneously combusted or even jammed my fingers in my ears and started singing “The Star Spangled Banner” I wouldn’t have been sucked into this topic, imprisoned between upstanding members of the moral police in the check out lane of Safeway. Anyplace they could have taken me would have been better than where Conor was going with this.

“Maybe we should talk about this later.”

I tried but there is no later for toddlers, there is only now. Now. Now. Now. I knew that before I said it, I also knew that Conor had latched on to his new favorite word like a barnacle on the Titanic. Even after the boat’s laying on the ocean floor, the barnacle is still attached, loving every minute of it.

“Is his penis as cute as mine?”

Someone just kill me because I’m going down in flames.

I must have blacked out because I woke up in the parking lot, attacking a quart of Butter Brickle with a rubber-tipped baby spoon, humming “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Do These Letters Make My Butt Look Big?

In August of 1984 I took my first tour of the campus at Arizona State University. In addition to the sensation of walking around a tree-lined interior of a large oven, the youthful vitality of the students impressed me. Two girls in particular stand out in my memory. It wasn’t their tanned skin or long blonde hair that I found amazing, although in comparison to my doughy Midwestern pallor and Medusa hair, they were quite stunning. No, what made my corn-fed, oxford-shirted, just-burned-my-hands-on-the-steering-wheel-of-my-car brain go tilt was the large school logo emblazoned across the butt section of their shorts.

Yes, I did just claw my way out of a fashion coma and I wake up to find that people are using their asses for marketing purposes.

“Oh, I don’t think I can go here” became my singular thought-refrain. Suddenly everything about the place seemed over-the-top, mentally and physically unattainable. I couldn’t even understand the language they were speaking, a linguistic cross between Valley Girl and sorority sister never heard east of the Mississippi. I was a different species altogether from these willowy co-eds with writing on their butts. Before they spotted me, I ran back to my lair after purchasing some be-Deviled oven mitts for the drive home.

24 years and several incarnations later…

I’m standing in Victoria’s Secret close to campus. Classes are starting on Monday so naturally every female within 30 miles is stocking up on “University of Pink” wear. Me too, I admit it, but only for my pink-loving girls. As I look through the racks, I hear the unmistakable dialect of the ASU co-ed.

“Oh my gawd, I HAVE to have these shorts. They’re soooo cute!”

I turned around expecting to see the 2008 models of the leggy blondes I encountered in 1984 (and to see if I had to have those shorts too). Instead, the two young women gazing lovingly at the pair of shorts are done up in dark emo shades. Long hair dyed various hues of somber and depressed, India ink tats, piercings with sharp, pointy things (tastefully small and discreet but uncomfortable looking all the same), all this at polar opposites to blondes of 1984. The lingo was similar but with a noticeable amp up of obscenities.

I relaxed a bit. My 24 years of intervening life experience told me I don’t have to march in step to my fellow classmates. A worthwhile conclusion considering I’m older than both my advisor and my professors (except for one of them, an obvious fluke) and the squick factor associated with jamming things into my flesh. Finally, I’m okay. I wish my hair didn’t have streaks of silver in it and my eyes didn’t wrinkle so much when I smile, but those lovely blonde women of 1984 are considering a close, loving relationship with Botox the same way I am. Time is an equal-opportunity son of a bitch.

So, I think I can go here. And I am, starting tomorrow.

Walking out the store, I laughed out loud. The shorts-adoring co-eds walked out ahead of me, both with “ASU” logos blazing across their bottoms.

Fashion changes but the classics remain.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The future of parenting

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
Kalil Gibran

I knew from the moment I became a mother that my children aren't mine at all. They belong to themselves so completely. And although I am responsible for their education and well-being along with Big Daddy, I know that I could not put a single thought in their heads, I could not move their hands to take mine or control the crazy curliques of their imaginations. I saw that they were entire universes where only the smallest part would be visible to me in my lifetime, like trying to count the stars in the Milky Way. But even that tiny part is so cool, it makes me smile just to think of it.

Yesterday as I was putting Conor to bed, he said, "I love you so much Mom. I'll always love you." I laughed and told him his future. "One day you won't love me. One day you will tell me you hate me and mean it." He looked stricken and said, "I would never say that!"

"It's alright," I said, "every kid says it to their parents or at least thinks it. It's part of growing up. But you know, on that day what I will say back to you?"

He braced himself for harsh words of rejection.

"I'll say, 'I love you forever' and mean it."

That kid positively glowed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Of cabbages and kings

I have college books! I love college books although I have to admit that I loved them a lot more when Mommy and Daddy were footing the bill for them. During my first go-around in school, I saucily purchased new, pristine books and recklessly marked them up, dog-eared their pages, and abused them with rude doodles. Sometimes I even tore them up after the class was over in a post-final exams hissy fit. Someone should have spanked me for what I did to those books but no one ever did, until now.

Now, my very used, yet still very expensive books will be treated as gingerly as a Gutenberg Bible in hopes that they will be able to be re-sold to some other poor student. I realize that I hope in vain. If a text is used 3 or 4 times, that’s a lot in the life of a textbook. Profs rotate in and out of texts as often as Britney forgets her bloomers, requiring new editions or altogether different titles. I recall one my professors requiring his class to hunt down and purchase a “supplemental guide.” It consisted of a spiral bound collection of illegible hand written notes coupled with unreadable articles on indiscriminate topics. If Mad Magazine put together college texts, it would look a lot like this. We used the proto-door stop once since no one, not even the professor who compiled it, could make heads or tails of it. I think he inhaled…a lot.

I had almost forgotten the fiefdom of the classroom. Most of my former professors could ably be described as benevolent dictators but some were full-on despots and a few, outright sociopaths. Those ivory towers of higher education can function as insane asylums if needs be. After 40 though, I’m a lot less cowed by the egos, the brilliance and bizarre behaviors exhibited by my professors. I still remember the hushed awe that swept through a historical survey class I took when the professor (complete with a Chief Inspector Dreyfus facial tic) concluded that Hitler’s megalomania was directly derived from his mother’s cancerous breasts. Allll-righty then. At 19, I sat quietly in honor of the prof’s obvious erudition, now however, I’d be stifling a laugh and an argument. I’ve become much more of a “show me” girl. Call me cynical, but you’re gonna need a lot more than Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams to prove that Hitler took command, co-opted whole countries and ethnically-cleansed at his whim because Mumsy couldn’t nurse little Adolph. But at least I got a couple of great anecdotes out of the class and an A as I recall.

I haven’t met this semester’s professors yet, but I look forward to it. Until I do, however, I get to recall my previous education, apply my current skills (mothering) and hermetically seal my textbooks. Anyone have an isolation booth I can borrow?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Are you experienced?

Although I'm a neophyte blogger, I have taken a turn or two around the Internet.  In the beginning, of course, my relationship with the cyber-universe was that of an intense new love affair.  Barely a moment went by when I wasn't thinking of snarky-witty responses to the snarky-witty posts left by my new best friends at the Project Greenlight forums.  (Sorry, no link exists to PG anymore, but I remember how good it was, Ben and Matt.  I remember!)  It was like sex with keystrokes and I climaxed every time someone noticed my insightful/funny/brilliant use of words.  I still get a little thrill from the residual memory of those first days.  But with time, experience and a demanding real-life existence, the excitement wanes.  Or does it?

My relationship with the Internet has entered a more mature phase.  The run-up to an orgasm is no longer noticeable when I hit the Enter key but there is still a sense of pleasure, a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing Google will answer all my questions, that Wikipedia is the reservoir of the obscure information I need to fill my flabby brain, that will explain the meaning and Bartleby will quote me on it.  And though I treasure my very own copy of the OED, those suckers are too heavy to schlep over to the coffeehouse.  My sweet little computer weighs only a couple of pounds and travels so nicely in elegant satchel.  It feels good slung over my shoulder.

So I go back often to my computer for all the information I need to impress my kids and make them believe that Mommy's knows everything.  But I go for the camaraderie too.  There are people in the pixels on my screen, wonderful people.  These are people I love to talk to, laugh with, argue with and cry with.  They are artists and writers, poets and pundits, icons and rebels all in the process of becoming something greater through their contact with all of us out here.  I wanted to share some special gathering spots I've found in my keyboarding travels.

I can't recommend this writers' website highly enough.  It was the brainchild of author Jenna Glatzer as a place for writers to congregate and discuss the craft in its various styles and genres.  It has grown into a vibrant, exciting, authentic community through the efforts of so many people, but mostly Jenna and the website's new owner, Macallister Stone.

Absolute Write is also the adopted home of Uncle Jim.  Uncle Jim is really James D. MacDonald who is really a successful science fiction writer who really has created the best seat-of-your-britches writing course on the Internet.  He keeps it here for everyone to learn from, free of charge (well, I do still owe him a beer.)  But be prepared for lots of work, tons of reading and BIC, BIC, BIC.

Macallister Stone, who owns and operates Absolute Write, also maintains a nice, quiet corner for readers.  Every writer is first a reader and this is a great place to discuss the books and writers we love so much.

This is my new favorite place on the Internet.  It's a fabulous clearinghouse for news articles, videos, book reviews, essays, quotations and blogs with a distinct literary flavor administered by William Haskins and Jamie Mason.  Their voices are sharp, brilliant and definitely, habit-forming.  I'm glad it's sugar-free and so is my BICed butt.

So although I'm less inclined to spent my precious hours thinking up bons mots for the spammers and head cases roaming free on the vast plains of cyberspace and I have cut myself off from all chat room channels (cold turkey, thank you very much), I still find the Internet to be a worthy destination.  My secret lover has grown into a quirky old friend, one that knows everything and nothing at all, one that listens to my blatherings and blathers in his turn, one that is powered by words.  yeah, it's quirky but still mad sexy, if you asked me.

And Ben and Matt, we'll always have Project Greenlight.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Worldwide Premiere of "Return Engagement"

"Everyone has to have a first day."  

Or so I say when the waitress hands me the wrong order or the customer service rep can't help me, the customer, with anything I need or my cable connection goes away because someone living two and a half blocks away switched services. I try to cut first-timers some slack, I really do because I know as well as anyone that firsts can be tense.  

For example, this is my first blog post.  I want it to dazzle and disarm the whole population of cyberspace.  Of course, I expect that my readership will more likely encompass approximately 3 people, 4 if my mother ever comes to terms with the "glorified calculator" sitting on her desk.  But like a new mother showing off her first born, I want everyone to cheer and feel their spirits renewed by the words here.  So it's not a Brangelina baby, as long as it doesn't puke on your shoe, and maybe makes you think a bit or god forbid, even laugh, then it's all good.  

Besides the obvious ego-stroking inherent in blogs, I have some legitimate reasons for beginning this adventure in anonymous journaling.  First, my status as a Stay At Home Mom is about to drastically change.  Time did this to me by making my children grow like kelp.  One day I have 3 toddlers all in diapers, the next day I have to figure out how to simultaneously deliver three kids to three different schools.  My youngest is 7 years old now.  She'll be starting 2nd grade on Monday morning.  Kendall is nervous about entering the 2nd grade, it's her first time after all.  I try soothe her and tell her, "I'm going back to school too."  But that doesn't soothe at all.  In fact, she cries about it and explains to me that mommies don't need to learn anything else, they already know how to love their children.

Well, maybe mommies do know everything they need to know about loving their families, but I don't know how to write the books I want to write.  I don't know how to make my passion for words a profitable one for my family.  Yet.  Although I'm sure no college course can cover such diverse topics as Magic Boo Boo Kisses, Differentiating the Cry of Pain From the Whine of Boredom, and Upper Division Sharing, my courses will educate me in the finer points of technical and multimedia writing.  Kendall doesn't see it's not mommy who's going back to school, mommy who makes sure your teeth are brushed and that you put on clean underwear, no, not mommy but Carol, me. 

Don't worry, baby blog, no pressure, no pressure.