Archives for November 2011

Scarlet Letters

Back in high school, I never really associated myself with one particular clique. I successfully maneuvered through a few and chose to steer clear of the girls with mean streaks. On more than one occasion, I risked my own life social standing and stood up for girl who was being bullied or turned into a social pariah. Maybe it’s the Libra in me, but I just can’t stop myself from fighting for fairness.

For some silly reason, as a teenager I thought we’d all eventually outgrow those bouts of bitchiness. Maybe it was just blind hope that led me to think people automatically turned nice when they were done growing up. Somewhere along the line, I was misled. I’m disappointed to report that there are vast amounts of adult women who have failed.

That’s right. In fact, if I could legally walk around with a giant rubber stamp and a red ink pad slapping a big red “F” on foreheads of all perpetrators, I would. I’d mark them all with their very own scarlet letter to alert the world that they have failed to evolve. Unfortunately, assault with a rubber stamp is against the law and most people can spot these stunted gals from a mile away anyway.

So, I even though I was way off the mark back when I believed girls grew into women capable of being kind/forgiving/tolerant/aware/supportive of one another, I can only assume that, like me, the world is filled with people who thought adulthood changed things. You know, the idiots who believed in some sort of mass evolution or future utopian existence…  Well, fellow dreamers, while there are oodles of nice ladies out there, apparently there is also a large contingent of female humans crippled by their inability to do the following:

1.  Make eye-contact and say hello to the women they see every day.

It’s not hard. Just move your eyeballs toward the person in front of you, tell your brain to form the word “hello” and then make your mouth move. If “hello” doesn’t work for you, here are several variations of salutations that might fit the bill:  good morning, good afternoon, howdy, what’s up? hi, how are you? or perhaps a simple and non-committal, hey. Because that’s better than nothing.

2.  Avoid gossip.

Especially when the persons with whom you are gossiping are too daft to keep the source of the gossip (you) close to the vest. It’s simple really…save the gossip for your husband or the family dog. They don’t really care about what’s happening at the PTA meeting/playground/gym, so your petty gossip won’t come back to bite you in the ass later.

Maybe now is also a good time to propose that women should refrain from forming pitchfork carrying mobs intent on annihilating the women who don’t fit their agenda or who, for some reason pose a threat.

Might I suggest that if you’re feeling the need to incite the masses, there are well-trained men and women who can be hired to psycho-analyze this disturbing behavior right out of your brain. I know, crazy…right? And it’s conveniently covered by most medical insurance, too.

Sadly, the reasons for Queen Bees and their Wannabees don’t seem much different now than they were when I was 15 years old. There are still groups of grown women prepared to attack if they don’t like the way another person talks, dresses, walks, thinks…

It’s depressing to think I’ll have to tell my daughters that the cliques never really go away. There’s always someone vying to be the leader but so few actually carry it off with grace and aplomb.

Playgrounds and play groups and beach outings and car pools…they’re still there. The perfectly coiffed women who married well, the harried working moms trying to stay on schedule, the moms trying to be perfect so their kids will perfect and popular, the former career-girls who now stay at home and apply their expertise to their family, attacking school-related functions with a vengeance.

I’ve tried my best to avoid all of the above, but as mommies, we all inadvertently stumble into a viper pit at some point.

Last summer, as I prepared for my grad school residency, the phone rang. (Here’s the part where I come clean) For a while there, I let unknown local numbers go straight to the answering machine, mostly because I never knew if it was school-related phone call or a mom from one of our schools trying to sell face cream. Anywho…on that day last summer, it was school-related.

The voice of a woman who I’d never met filled my kitchen and informed me that we were five dollars short on our tuition for the year. Okay.

And it was okay, until the tone of her message took a very snooty turn, reiterating twice that our payment should be X amount, as if we were idiots or some sort of pathetic losers whose five dollar shortage was causing the wanton destruction of a perfectly fine establishment.

My active imagination conjured an image of the woman on the other end of the phone. She became a sneering uppity WASP dressed in cashmere twin-set with a fluffy Pomeranian in her lap. I still haven’t met her, but the image sticks and her call seems to have set the tone for the year.

Now, months later, I look back at the years I worked in New York law firms and find myself missing the up-front and honest approach of my male co-workers. As much as I dislike gender stereotypes, I enjoyed working with men who said what they had to say and moved on. No grudges. No backstabbing. No fake smiles. No insecurity-induced sniping.

Boy, do I miss those guys.

A Message From Beulah

Last month my mentor assigned Robert Wilder’s Daddy Needs a Drink. With reading assignments tailored to what I’m writing – in this case, humor – I approached Wilder’s book with an eye toward subject matter and paid attention to how his material compared to my own, especially in terms of gender.

Before I even placed the order for his book, I perused the reader reviews. What can I say? I was overcome with curiosity and needed to know how the average Schmo received “an irreverent look at parenting” in book form. That’s what I’m writing, right? Lots of irreverent pieces about my family.

For the most part, people loved the book. They laughed and appreciated the honesty of Wilder’s words, probably because they were knee deep in their own little kids when they read it. Either that or they maintain the ability to recall what it felt like to be a new parent and understand that toddlers are, at times, uncontrollable and challenging. Yup, the readers ate it up and appreciated Wilder’s irreverence.

But there’s always one in every crowd, isn’t there? The one who pipes in with a message of disgust that lets the world know that they are a smarter, better, more pious and evolved person than the rest of us. Wilder recieved a few angry reviews from these people and I thought, Well, I guess I’d better get used to the Beulah’s of the world writing angry reviews of my work if I plan on publishing. Then I thought, It says right there in the title, “An irreverent look at parenting” can’t these people read?

Today, approximately one month after reading those reviews, I experienced my own angry commenter. After 2.5 hours of sleep and nursing a fever, I opened my e-mail and found this response to Candy and Cussin’:

“What is wrong with wanting kids to be polite and well-behaved? Normally you’d expect kids to only take one piece of candy. You should thank that lady for trying to raise your child. And calling names? Thank goodness that it wasn’t my child, or that I wasn’t that lady. I’d be embarrassed if I where you” Eva.

Eva. Eva, Eva, Eva… is this even your real name? Fess up; its Beulah isn’t it?

I’ve never responded to hate mail before and don’t plan on doing so in the future but seeing as you’re my first, I’ll celebrate your angry rant. Allow me to answer you in the form of an interview.

What is wrong with wanting kids to be polite and well-behaved? Absolutely nothing. As parents, this is the goal David and I are working toward each and every day. In fact, our children know to say please and thank you and do so quite often. In addition, they are well versed in dining etiquette and regularly place their napkins on their laps before consuming their organic roasted asparagus and braised chicken thighs with cremini mushrooms.

You’ll have to forgive my two year old’s moment of indiscretion on Halloween night. You see…she’s two.

Bedtime was approaching and she’d been walking through a dark neighborhood filled with snow and a barrage of sensory experiences for an hour. I agree, most people do expect children to take just one piece of candy yet, in the family-oriented neighborhood where we were trick or treating, there were a whole mess of people encouraging kids to “go ahead and take two.” I don’t know about you, Eva, but I’d be hard-pressed to find many two year olds able to understand why some houses give out two and some just one. Also, if you see a toddler approaching and you’re firm in your “just one” policy, then pick one out of your bowl and hand it to said toddler to avoid confusion or strained candy budgets.

We’ve repeatedly tried to explain the collapsing world financial market to Kate, hoping she’d apply her knowledge on Halloween and approach candy collecting with some semblance of awareness. What can I say…my two year old is an idiot?

You should thank that lady for trying to raise your child. You’re right, of course. Clearly we aren’t doing enough as parents. The ballet classes, the art projects, , Mad Science, Jukado, reading to them for 30 minutes each evening, bathing them, feeding them healthy and nutritious food and trying to make sure they enjoy childhood rites of passage like trick or treating whilst clad in costumes that weren’t purchased from a discount department store makes us horrible parents. We simply aren’t raising our children properly, if at all.

That woman sitting on her lawn chair in a darkened driveway that grabbed my two year olds wrist and tried to pry her fingers apart did her best, dammit! She tried but let’s face it, Kate is doomed.

And calling names? Thank goodness that it wasn’t my child, or that I wasn’t that lady. Yes, Eva. Thank goodness! You seem to infer that if Kate was your child, you might have beaten her with a hot poker right there in that lady’s driveway. Are you suggesting that if you were that lady you might have physically harmed my two year old child or yelled at her? Well, Eva…again, thank goodness you weren’t that lady because you would have experienced my size 7 shoe kicking your ass. Yes, I just said “ass”.

I don’t know where you live, but in my neck of the woods (The United States of America) it’s generally frowned upon to beat children,not to mention, illegal.

For the record, I sternly reprimanded my two year old daughter, apologized profusely and said thank you to Stingy McCheapo. Personally, I’m not a member of the club that thinks pouring Tobasco sauce on your kids’ tongue is a good idea. Plus, I think Kate might be a bit young for that type of punishment. To each his own.

I’d be embarrassed if I where you – Somehow, your statement leads me to believe this was your first visit to No. 7. If you’d been around awhile, you might have some semblance of understanding that yes, I’ve been entirely mortified that our little girl latched on to a naughty word. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be horrified but if I can’t look back at this phase with a bit of humor, then I’m in for a long ride.

By the way, it seems that by the end of your rant you were getting rather hot under the collar which led you to make two serious grammatical errors. You forgot a period and its “were” not “where.” Check yourself.

In the interest of time, for those of you (EVA) who don’t quite get the gist of irreverence, let’s brush us on some simple vocabulary courtesy of Miriam-Webster.

ir·rev·er·ent adj \-rənt; -vərnt\

Definition of IRREVERENT

: lacking proper respect or seriousness; also: satiric

ir·rev·er·ent·lyadverb

Examples of IRREVERENT

He has a delightfully irreverent sense of humor.

<irreverent behavior during church services>

Origin of IRREVERENT

Middle English, from Latin irreverent-, irreverens, from in- + reverent-, reverensreverent

First Known Use: 15th century

Related to IRREVERENT

Synonyms: blasphemous, impious, profane, sacrilegious

Antonyms: pious, reverent

Sadly, while I can supply you with a simple definition, I’m unable to beat you over the head with it with the hope you’ll develop a sense of humor. In your case, I think its best if you forget Narragansett No. 7 entirely. You’re clearly a very literal person who read my humor piece and assumed that, at my house, we’re walking around dropping F-bombs and swillin’ cheap beer while our dirty unattended saggy diapered toddler eats nothing but hot dogs mixed in Wal-Mart’s generic macaroni and cheese and hollers “ahhssole” at…well, people like you.

While the above scenario would be mildly entertaining if one were watching a comedy (Randy Quaid’s family in Vacation and Talladega Nights come to mind) I too would be horrified to know that this is how people really live. There’s something nice about walking away with some understanding that I just watched a funny movie about fake people. I get it, Eva. I do. Some people have a hard time understanding satirical writing. It’s a complicated blend of reality, sarcasm, humiliation and humor. You get or you don’t.

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Candy and Cussin’

This year Halloween was slightly hectic. Between snowstorms and grad school and parent/teacher conferences, we plain old forgot to carve our pumpkins. To be honest, the kids didn’t even notice. When we lived in New Hampshire, our house was smack in the middle of a tiny historic town that morphs into a ‘destination’ every October 31st. Newfields was an amazing little town that required tons of Halloween preparations in order to keep up with the Joneses. I wouldn’t have been caught dead with uncarved pumpkins!

Here in Maine, we live on a very private dead-end road where the neighbors are all well-aware of who’s coming and going (for the record, we all sport guns and vicious attack dogs so don’t go gettin’ any ideas about stalking.) Two Halloweens have passed and nary a kid has rung the bell asking for a treat. This is fine with me, because now I don’t fall prey to those last-minute “oh shit, I forgot to buy 30 bags of candy!” runs like I did in New Hampshire. I’m only slightly exaggerating by the way. Our candy budget was HUGE back there in Newfields!

This year’s Halloween preparation included schlepping into the attic to pull down the costume bin, calling the girls, taking off the lid and telling them to pick their poison. We’ve amassed an impressive assortment of costumes in this house. The first one we ever purchased was the year Joe was 2 and he was a tiny and adorable Frankenstein. He stomped his way through the neighborhoods of Brighton, Massachusetts cluelessly accepting vast amounts of candy from complete strangers. Candy that no two year old has any business eating but we were new parents and weren’t going to be denied the experience of dressing our new human in a ridiculous outfit to parade around the city.

Now, thanks to her older siblings, Kate has a Halloween wardrobe that rivals the best costume shops. Okay, not really… She has a choice of Marie from The Aristocats, Tinkerbell, approximately 5 busted princess dresses and that Frankenstein costume.

After I removed the lid, the girls leaned over the costume bin, squealing with delight and began hurling costumes into the air. Kate pulled the Frankensuit out and gasped. At first I was concerned, thinking maybe the black hairline and ghastly green pallor had somehow disturbed her.

 “What this, Mommy?”

 “That’s Frankenstein.”

 “Oh…Fwankenthein,” she breathed, fingering the silver neck bolts with the same reverence of a grown woman who somehow stumbled upon the Hope Diamond among a box of crappy costume jewelry.

 “I be Fwankenthein.”

Kate latched on to that Frankenstein costume with a vengeance. I truly thought she’d cast it aside for something pretty as the big day approached but took a step back and let her make the choice, because that’s what all the experts suggest, right? We should give toddlers a sense of ownership over their appearance to help them develop their independence. As if Kate needs any help in that area.

Halloween arrived and at lunch, while the girls stuffed their faces with grilled cheese sandwiches, I broached the subject of costumes to verify their choices and get a handle on the amount of face-painting I’d be performing at crunch time.

“I’m going to be a witch!” Gwen exclaimed.

“I be Fwankenthein, you knucklehead!” Kate declared, as if I was a complete fool, her tone implying, how many times do I have to tell you that, lady? Sheesh.

Having waited until the last possible moment to come up with Joe’s Bug-EyedVampire Mummy costume, I was happy the girls remained decisive. I spent the afternoon destroying a white king sized sheet to construct a mummy wrap. In the name of all things Halloween, I sacrificed one of our king-sized sheets for Joe’s costume, spent 20 minutes tearing it to smithereens, and then soaked it in the bathtub with tea bags until the wraps reached the appropriate level of faux mummy filth and decay. I ran the mess through the spin cycle, threw them in the dryer then spent 40 minutes de-tangling a ball of pricey tea-stained sheet strips that needed to be ironed. At the end of the day, Joe’s costume was awesome. His self-esteem got several healthy boosts during the evening as kid after kid stopped to gawk at him before declaring his costume, “awesome”, “really scary” and “That mummy looks sick!” Let me tell you something, there’s nothing better than watching your seven year old swell with pride after Harry Potter stops to compliment his ghoulish appearance.

But Kate…Kate was a sight to behold. She watched me paint Gwen’s face witchy green and apply several strategically placed brown warts and decided that she needed to look like a “scawy Fwankthein.” I plopped her on the kitchen counter and rubbed her face green, painted some black stitches onto her cheek and gave her a distinct black unibrow. She was thrilled. She added a bit of her own flair by picking her nose and making it bleed. At first I was appalled but then realized that the blood lent a dose of realism to her costume and left it intact.

                                                                        

We drove to the neighborhood that’s best for Trick or Treating and the kids piled out of the car. Kate tromped her little Frankenfeet along the sidewalks, climbed step after step and collected candy from house after house where the people naturally assumed she was a little boy. She didn’t care. Soon her little pony tails worked their way from under the Frankenstein hood and she performed her little Katie wiggle dance while singing “Twick or Tweat, smell my feet, give me sumptin’ good to eat!” Dave and I watched her with delight and smiled at each other as we soaked up her funny little personality.

With all the confidence in the world, Kate walked up driveways and climbed steps, helped herself to candy and sweetly called, “Twick or Tweat” after her helping of candy was safely tucked in her bucket. It was cold outside and the ground is covered in freshly fallen snow, but she didn’t complain once. After about an hour, Joe decided that he was cold and his candy collection was complete. Gladly, we began herding all three kids back toward the car, stopping at more houses along the way.

Kate spotted a house that Joe and Gwen missed. She made her way up the driveway to a woman in a lawn chair holding a giant bowl of goodies. My tiny Frankenstein, petite in stature with pigtails bouncing, stopped in front of the woman, sang “twick or tweat” and plunged her hand into the bowl of candy. She came up with a handful and moved to dump it into her stash when the woman began prying pieces from her hand.

 “Just one piece,” she advised and looked to me for assistance.

It took a second for me to process that this woman with an enormous bowl filled with candy was literally taking candy from a baby. I laughed, assuming she was joking. Afterall, the trick or treaters were dwindling and clearly, she had a shitload of candy to get rid of. Not to mention, she’d engaged in battle with a toddler.

 She wasn’t joking.

 I moved to Kate’s side and said, “Just one candy, Kate.” I tried to pull some treats from her fist and keep laughing about it, but all the while I was thinking the woman would realize she was being a stingy jerk to a kid barely out of infancy.

 “Sorry, but I have a budget,” she explained to Kate and plucked a bag of Twizzlers from her hand.

 Kate began crying, stomped her clunky Frankenfeet and crossed her arms across her chest in a huff. Stingy McCheapo made the mistake of laughing while simultaneously clapping her hands together in fake delight at Kate’s anger.

 “You an AHHHSSHOLE!” Kate screamed.

 Thank goodness Stingy McCheapo was thrifty enough to have left her porch light off…she couldn’t see my smile as Kate and I joined hands and walked into the darkness.