Sunday, April 29, 2007

Washed Up Jellyfish or Breast Implants?

Never dress your kids in long sleeves and jeans for an April day at the beach in San Diego. They'll look like a trio of displaced city folk whose mom was up all night smoking crack. What was I thinking?

We ventured an hour and a half south with the kids this weekend to take part in a luau/outrigging competition/charity event that my husband's company sponsored. While my smoker Hubster huffed, puffed and rowed his way to second place (the buff U.S. Coast Guard eye candy team snagged first-place, no brainer), I miserably failed at being in three places at once (chasing my trio of unruly children). Frankly, it was embarrassing to wield so little control over my chitlins at the somewhat high-profile, fancy-schmancy function.

Pigtails trailblazed alone, sandblown and completely out of sight toward the teriaki glazed luau food tent scrounging for a third serving of the "sticky blue stuff" (super dense factory prefab cotton candy) while her barely beginner swimming brothers flirted with an ambulance ride to the emergency room (or being peed on by the hot Coast Guard guys) while poking dead jellyfish with unidentifiable washed up sea trash and driftwood.

I wondered later if the "jellyfish" the mischief brothers maniacally impaled were the missing silicone (or was it saline?) halves of a decent C-cup rack. After all, we were at a Southern California beach and the boys' orb torture targets were round, squishy, transluscent and lacked tentacles as far as I could see from the top of the sandy beach, where I feebly schmoozed with the other corporate wives.

My schmoozing topics left much to be desired (Is there a corporate wife schmoozing 101 course I don't know about? Sign me up pronto so I can get an easy F!):

"Did you know the New Hampshire State motto is 'Live Free or Die' and one of the outrigging teams is named 'Live Free or Die ... Rowing'? What a coincidence! How clever!" Or not.

"Yeah. I love baking cupcakes with the kids too. What a joy!" What a bunch of bullshit. I hate baking with the kids because it gets too messy too fast. And I don't savor the taste nor texture of bitten off plastic spatula accidentally baked into my Jiffy popovers.

"I agree." I said these two words a ton but had no idea what I agreed to because my eyes were too busy darting willy nilly around the beach in the three directions of my children like I'd just eaten two hits of Purple Jesus in a strobe flickering rave room. I really hope I didn't unknowingly agree that the Coast Guard rowing studs would have looked more appetizing if they hadn't shave their ripped chests. (Hey, do raves even happen anymore? I'm dating myself, me thinks.)

Well, that's it for now. It's time to unpack our sandy duds and unearth the seventeen craps my cat took in the cat box while we were away. At least Trixie cat didn't eat her young (kittens) in our absence. Now that we're back, I'll leave that to my crazy curious kids.

Tomorrow brings Cheeks' second Itsy Bitsy Sports class. Basketball is the reason because it's in-season. Shee-a, not funny. There will be plenty of local yocal moms to smchmooze with there. Let's just hope I don't blow it a la San Diego. Who cares? They'll be too busy snapping proud-parent digital pics of their kids to notice my social drivel. Last week all in attendance, except yours truly, hailed the motherly merits of scrapbooking for a good ten minutes. Gag me with a 3D, acid-free photo corner.

By the way, Cheeks didn't errupt into a single tantrum in San Diego. No complaints were filed on the part of our fellow hotel guests, and he slept through the night (on the very edge of the hotel bed ... We found him dangling upside down crying on Saturday night, with the lower half of his newly tanned body anchored to the mattress. Wisps of sun-bleached hair on the top of his upside down head brushed the carpet. I couldn't stop chuckling, which really pissed him off ... He didn't like me calling him a "fruit bat boy" either. Hey don't sloths also hang upside down from trees when they sleep ... ).

What child wouldn't crash through the night after two days in the San Diego sun, poking salt water filled breast implants/jellyfish that washed up on the salty shore? Seems as if evolution has come full circle.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Forecast: A Full Night of Sleep When They Grow Up and Move Out

I'm tired, I'm pissed and I said a lot of things last night that I already regret.

Cheeks had not one, not two, but three major tantrums overnight. At one point he barked like a dog. Figure that one out.

My eyes hurt. I feel like I have a newborn who wakes me turn nurse every hour, except I don't. None of my children are newbies any more. Cheeks reminds me of one, though. His emotional, sometimes violent, outbursts take me back to his nightly newborn, 8 p.m.-on-the-dot crying and kicking fits. They would last for two hours at least, sometimes as long as three.

Neighbors arrived at my front door, as they do now, all those years ago to see if "everything's okay" or to ask me "to keep it down with the baby." We're in a different neighborhood now and nearly four years have passed since Cheeks dreaded punctual colick attacks, yet the neighbors here probably wonder if we're beating him. The crashing sounds of piggy banks breaking, shoes being pelted one after the other at a flimsy bedroom door and incessant wailing and what truly sounds like barking, these are the sounds we're known for now on our block. A neighbor five houses up the street confirmed that she can hear Cheeks' tantrums. I used to worry about the embarrassment. Now I worry that a neighbor, especially the poor couple right next door, is going to call the cops or Child Services.

This has to stop.

Cheeks' older brother, The Lawyer, isn't sleeping enough because of the nightly bloodcurdling scream interruptions. He covers his ears, hides under his pillow. Eventually we send him to our bedroom, where he can at least muffle the noise with bigger pillows and a thicker door. He stays awake anyway, listening to his brother's fits escalate, then fizzle out, usually after about 45 minutes.

One of the Lawyer's teachers asked me why he seems so tired. "Is he getting enough sleep?" Apparently he's become a regular at the office and has taken to "resting" on the couch there.

I have to go wake him now for his Friday field trip. This time he's going to a dairy and produce farm twenty miles up the freeway. Maybe he'll catch some z's on the way there while I try to keep Cheeks asleep a little longer at home. I'm not ready for him to wake up just yet.

(Don't care to spell check.)

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Betty Crocker Breakfast

Pigtails never fails to crawl into our bed every morning at dawn, reeking of pee drenched Huggies, only slightly sour morning breath (the worst doesn't hit until four or so) and mystery baby powder (I've hardly ever sprinkled any on her bottom, not even when she was a newborn).

A newly uploaded annoying chime coming from my husband's bedside Blackberry woke all three of us up this morning.

Unlike me, Pigtails fell right back to sleep. We lucked out on the third baby with a self-soothing model. Insert thumb, twirl hair and Pigtails is knocks right back out.

Fully asleep again, Pigtails karate kicked off the covers - she never could stand being swaddled or covered up in any way, it's a wonder she keeps her clothes on at all - and frowned, at least her drooly lips appeared down-turned from behind the pulsing thumb she has perma-jammed between them. Whimpering followed.

"It's okay, baby girl," I whispered near her ear, trying to stop another way too-early wake up before it started.

"No it's not okay," she said after plucking her thumb from her pout. Her eyes were still sealed shut in slumber.

"What, honey? Whaddyou' say to Mummy just now?"

"It's not okay! I want MY OWN chocolate cake for my birffday, Mommy! I WANT CAKE!"

Sure enough, when Pigtails woke up three hours later for the day with her white-blonde hair all tangled up like a tumbleweed beehive, the first thing she asked for was the chocolate cake of her dreams.

"Where's MY birffday cake, Mommy?" she demanded, as if I'd prepared one for breakfast.


Summertime at the Lake

My old journals were supposed to provide fodder for my book. So far, they haven’t been up to scratch.

"Used Furniture
Prescription popping on a Sunday afternoon
Watching New Hampshire public TV
Wearing an ex-boyfriend’s underwear"

See what I mean?

Here’s an exerpt I like far better from 4.14.99:

“I’m sitting in my bedroom atop my headboard-less queen-sized bed. A picture of my sister’s wedding day looks down on me from above the heating thingamajig thermostat. Tucked into the corner of the silver and gold frame is a stunning summertime picture of my sister at Camp Fatima.
We were in a swampy part of Lake Suncook in backwoods New Hampshire when I snapped the photo. Every Labor Day weekend my parents whisked me and my sister off to Camp Fatima with their fellow Knights of Columbus volunteers and friends for a long weekend of camp fires, singed hot dogs and Bingo games that went on and on until midnight.

My sister, Dena, and I would bundle up for the brisk night and walk down to the docks to meet our once-a-year-every-year for as far back as we could remember friends. We hid in the bushes to smoke cigarettes and played pass-out near the lake’s moonlit edge.

Dena’s honey-wheat hair is long in the photo, long enough to kiss her deep tanned shoulders. Her infectious smile opens across her face like a birthday present. There, in a slow going canoe on Lake Suncook, Dena is the most beautiful girl in the world. I can’t remember but I think she was 17 or 18 at the time. The wild, silly spirit passed down from our wonderfully-young-at-heart mom frozen on photo paper.

The cool blue lake water reflects off her salmon blush dusted cheeks and she is alive in that moment once again.

I miss the densely packed forests of New Hampshire. Out here in L.A. it’s suffocating. Miles of concrete spill out to form a rigid grid street layout beneath the smog and all its carcinogenic particulate matter.
There’s a painting of cottage on the calendar on my wall. It’s the month of April and I want that damn cottage for my own right now. I want to be in its small kitchen, frying bacon and tossing crepes in a heavy cast iron pan like my mother’s. I like the slight chimney poking out from the cottage’s thatched roof. I don’t know what Monet meant by that roof. A great mass of dots, clumped all together to articulate what I wish for: open space but closer still to my family.

I see myself older and independent in Monet’s cottage with long salt and pepper hair pulled back into a ponytail. I want to be wise and well read, with great taste in gourmet food, especially pies, cakes and other sugary desserts. I’d like my parents to still be around when I’m old. I could grow old with my dad, sparring with him as usual over some great, big topic we would inevitably disagree on.

Living in the moment, throwing caution to the wind and smoking. That’s what I’ll like, even when I’m old. My dad and I will bicker and nudge each other with verbal barbs rolling off our tongues until someone says something hurtful that sticks like gum and won’t be pried off.

I wish I could borrow, or even keep, the house on the hill of grass in Dunbarton, New Hampshire, my aunt and uncle’s house. It should be all mine for a weekend at least. My closest cousins lived there. Maybe they still do.

My eyes are getting heavy with sleep but I keep seeing my sister. A random symphony orchestra streams out of my square clock radio. A macho build up in the song winds down to weepy oboes and violins. Their cries are so faint now I can hardly hear them tip toe. The triangle’s ding distracts, brings attention to itself and steals a moment from the rest of the tune. It’s unpleasant, like the sound of ringing in my ear. Repeating itself over and over, forecasting a headache. I wish they’d leave the brass out of this symphony. I can’t help but associate the saxophone with a sexy duet between lovers or a stripper slipping out of her clothes. Who even knows if it’s a saxophone at all? What do I know about the symphony? Shoot. It’s a trumpet. Duh. Something even more wretched to my ears. Off the bed. Off with their heads.

Good night. Bonne nuit. Je t’aime beaucoup. Just like mom said when she tucked us in.”


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cali - The Land of Fruit and Truck Nuts

What do a pair of low-hanging balls and a pair of missing front teeth have in common? C'mon. Try harder. You can't guess?

Well I never would have guessed either ... that both bizarre pairs would color my day yesterday. One blushed my cheeks to pink and the other whitewashed my face to an even paler shade of pale.

Let's start with the danglers. There I was sitting at a red light at a busy crosswalk on the local city college campus. Cheeks and Pigtails gazed straight ahead, out the front windshield, right along with their cold coffee-guzzling mama at the iPod plugged up 18 to 24 set. The three of us were blissfully glazed over six-feet deep into our collegiate people watching when a yacht-sized Chevy Tahoe pulled up next to us in the wake of its own Richter scale bass booms.

I rolled my eyes and rolled up my minivan windows. (I know. What a shock that a suburban mom of three drives a friggin' minivan and shudders in response to bombastic bass. Duh.) I shifted my annoyed gaze downward as the Tahoe inched forward, nearly nudging the bumper of the Toyota hybrid in front of it. Ironic.

Perhaps by now you've heard the term "deez nuts." Then again, not all moms listen to hip-hop day-in and day-out like I do. Well, as I glanced downward below the Tahoe's bumper, I noticed a stoplight red pair of "deez nuts " swinging gently to and fro in the spot where a boat hook would normally stick out. Truck balls are the new antennae ball gone plural and flipped upside down from the back end. TRUCK BALLS?

Yes, a plastic red pair of what appeared to be human testicle replicas hung low from the danged Tahoe. If they didn't suck hard enough already, they lacked authenticity for a number of reasons: they were perfectly smooth, they glinted, perfectly reflecting the Southern California sun, both balls were perfectly even in size and neither hung higher or lower than the other, and THEY dangled NOT FROM A MAN, BUT A FROM A TRUCK, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

It's too (coffee draught) early in the morning to go into the gummy gaps that appeared instead teeth in the trucker-swearing mouths of two of my fellow parenting class students last night. After only one class out of the nine to come, I can already confidently say that I'm a far better mother than I thought. I think I was the only mother there of my own volition, not by court order. I'll share the horror stories from class when I'm on a full stomach later.

Hopefully the recent ball-dangling fad doesn't hang on. Oh, and, uh, truck squirrels, please keep your balls to your nut hoarding selves.

BALL-CENTRIC UPDATE: I Googled "truck balls" and found this lame ad copy: "Bumper nuts, bumper balls, truck nutz, truck balls, truck nuts, hitch nuts, big balls, bulls balls, bull balls, big boy nuts, bike balls, car balls and hanging nuts are not all the same thing, our imitators would like you to think so." Thanks Bulls Balls company, "home of the Big'Uns," for making my day a little nuttier.

I can rest easier at night knowing that Bulls Balls' Truck Nuts "are available in four styles, many colors including Bright Chrome, Bright Brass, Diamond Plate and Camouflage" that will "hang easily on all your rigs, in many ways. They're made to Swing™!" How appropriate that in the "How to Hang Bumper Balls" FAQ over at Bumper Nuts, the manufacturer advises against hanging truck balls from your rig with CHICKEN WIRE. What does that tell you about the type of folks they're addressing?

Maybe, just maybe, my Dodge minivan can be the first mama-mobile to sport a saggy pair of post-breastfeeding flapjack boobs. What's next? Episiotomy car-ginas? What other inanimate objects can our sex-salivating society sexualize? More importantly, when I can have balls on my blender?

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Monday, April 23, 2007

No Theme, No Stress - Blow and Make a Wish

My son Cheeks turns four June 24. I have almost exactly two months to (un)prepare.

Usually I'd be in a stressed out huff by now, trolling for themed baseball or pirate party sets, hopefully no pricier than $2.95 per guest. Of course I'd also scramble to nail down a themed, stuffed to the seams piñata, helium balloons and the crowning inflated jewel of the party - a colossal bounce house.

What about the invitations? If you know me, I'm as much of a slacker when it comes to those as I am at sending thank you cards. It's strictly Evite for me and email thank yous for you.

Next, I'd stress the party menu. Triangular gourmet paninis for the adults or cutesy cookie cutter shaped, monogrammed PB & Js for the kids. Aw, it's all so Martha Stewart I could puke. Last year my son opted for a chopper motorcycle themed party, complete with checkered racing flags, a fancy chopper piñata and an amazing finale featuring his uncle's real, unfathomably loud and awesome Harley chopper. My son was higher on happiness (or chopper exhaust fumes).

Birthdays Without Pressure

I was far less elevated, having dished out 600 smackers on the party, which only a third of those who RSVP'd yes showed up to. That's 600 bills before the cost of his presents from his siblings, myself and his papa. Not this year. No way. Perhaps not ever again.

Drag out the wet blanket and promptly place it over the birthday candles spiking out of the overpriced, in keeping with the theme frosting heap called a cake. Meet William Doherty, a University of Minnesota social sciences professor whose mission is to take the pressure out of over-the-top, extravagant themed kids' birthday parties. (I wish I'd heard of him several thousand birthday party dollars ago, when I threw my first massive, superhero steroid injected parties at the park for my first son, starting six years ago.)

"Mothers run these parties and compare notes," Doherty said in a recent interview with USA Today. "It's the one mother out of 10 or 20 who ups the ante, then the others fall into place. That's what's so insidious about this."

Doherty is a member of Birthdays Without Pressure (BWP), a St. Paul group that wants parents to subtract mucho money, themes and stress from birthday celebrations. Is there a local BWP and when can I sign up? Read more about BWP and Doherty here. Read about the biggest birthday bashes here to see how bad it's gotten.

This year we'll invite Cheeks' cousins and a neighborhood friend or two (I'm thinking eight kids tops, including his two sibs), to the local park to grub on take-out pizza and juice, where we'll play for two or three stress-free, plain and simple hours.

If I cave and make favor bags, they will be as they always have been for our celebrations -- plain paper lunch bags that my children decorate with glitter, rubber stamps and whatever sparkly mess we can dig up from the overstuffed art box in the garage. They will be filled with 99 Cent Store penny racers and bubbles, or maybe with animal shaped lint balls from the Hubster's bellybutton.

At first I wanted to host Cheeks' party at the local rock climbing gym. He loved climbing there last Winter at his friend Maggie's sixth birthday. You should have seen him beam with pride (and a smattering of brow sweat) when he climbed to the very top and scaled his way back down again. I was impressed by the letter shaped hand and foot holds. The party was simple, fun and classy. Still, renting rock gym space isn't cheap.

Instead, I'll reserve a spot at a nearby nature park. I believe the rocks there are free, and so are the trees. No theme. No breaking the bank. No competition and NO STRESS. What's not to celebrate? Cheeks will still delight in a frosting topped cake that he will help decorate (he likes scraping the batter bowl better, I think). If guests should bring presents, he will open them.

When we look back on Shutterfly at Cheeks' big day, I'm sure we won't see any children sitting at the foot of a Eucalyptus or palm tree, mopping up tears shed over not bouncing into oblivion in a Batman bounce house. I have no doubt that the kids probably won't even notice the lack of batter dipped extravagance and trademarked superhero paper cups and plates, even if their mothers do.


Friday, April 20, 2007

No Tantrums Today (No Title Necessary)

Warning: This post is going to be as out of focus as the contents of my Shutterfly account. I'll be writing erractic, stream-of-momness journal style without hesitation or editing.

Begin unhinging brain onto keyboard:

Why is my husband in the garage rapping away on his laptop and why am I rapping on mine in the house? Why do we spend most of our nights of late separate and plugged in online but plugged out in-person? More dates. Must schedule more strawberries and whipped cream drive-in nights like last weekend's. Blades of Glory killed me. He wasn't moved to cackling like I was.

I finished my son's lard-laden canned frijoles negros and melted string cheese strand crisscrossed nachos for a late-night snack tonight without a Beano chaser. What the Hell was I thinking, and does this oversight have anything to do with the night's distance between my husband and myself?

Why did I insist on assisting my husband with bed time tonight when he was perfectly okay with sending me off to the movies to wash down synthetic butter drowned popcorn with pawfuls of bias cut pickled jalapeno slices? In the two hours my overtired daughter loosely rolled around in her sheets like the errant, fake plastic 99 Cent Store pearls she snapped off a gaudy dress-up bracelet with her teeth I could have been sensationally satisfied and salivating for the second half of Quentin Tarantino's "Grindhouse" double feature. But no. I insisted on helping. Then controlling. Then taking over. Then paying the long, boring hurry-up-and-wait price. No movie for mama. Mama needs a movie, damn it. Maybe mama should start having tantrums when she doesn't get what she wants. Maybe not.

Speaking of tantrums, I eccsatstically report that Cheeks had not-a-one today. Zilch! That's right. Not one ear-blasting, heart-pounding, patience atomic bombing tantrum.

On the anger extinguishing front, I didn't perform as winningly as Cheeks. I reacted like a beast mother when my children burst into the neighborhood Blockbuster Video like a trio of steroid injected rodeo bulls unleashed from a bullhorn pierced gate. They did exactly the opposite of what I asked of them in my proactive, supposedly conflict in public curbing preparatory/pep talk in the van. Yet somehow I still was stupid enough to buy them twizzlers, kettle corn and E.T. (bug eyed extraterrestrial that can still make me bawl like a professional mourner all these years after I bawled the first time, maybe 25 years ... I can't remember).

Is it too much to expect that both boys will hang on to or at least closely orbit the stroller their sister is quietly and happily strapped into, thanks to her wonderfully suckable thumbs?! Is it so much to ask that they don't swipe DVDs off the shelf and drop them like their hot right onto the carpet when they see better ones, ones with ninjas, swords and bloody eyes peering from beneath a crack in a creepy wooden door? I swear I'm still scarred from some of horror flick covers from today's movie rental misadventure.

Ghetto bird (cop chopper) just flitted by. Now flitting with more regularity. Now circling like a hawk. Saturday, April 21 update: Seven in-a-row gun shots rang out a street or two away from ours last night, close enough to echo off of the cement block wall hemming our yard. The grim din was enough to cause my husband to pack in his contract work garage laptop headquarters and head inside for safety and a quick search for police scanners on Google. My guess is we'll own one buy nightfall.

What went right today? Why not ask that more often instead of what's wrong? What went right? Again, Cheeks made no beefs. I'll be high as a college freshman on tea-bagged shrooms on that for, well, at least until his next tantrum. My husband came home from work early, despite what he called a "headache the size of Texas" to play double skateboard ramp Matchbox car race extravaganza. He is so much more fun that me. I suck. I'm serious. I'm only happy when properly (overly) caffeinated.

All of my posts should be like this. It's easier.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Not Just By Court Order

Lately I haven't been the parent I want to be.

I'm impatient.

I nitpick.

I criticise.

I yell.

I threaten but don't follow through.

I swat.

I'm not even close to the mother I envisioned I'd be. I want better for my children. I don't want them to grow up in fear of me.

Last night in an effort to better understand my parental frustrations and limitations I headed for the neighborhood Borders bookstore. I bought a stack of books that nearly obscured my view of the buzz-headed female cashier who rang me up. The two books at the top of my paperback tower were The Anger Diet by Brenda Shoshanna, Ph.D. and the newly revised edition of Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

Today I signed up for a class at the local Exchange Club called Breakthrough Parenting, which focuses on handling tantrums, getting at the source of parent and child anger/conflict. The lady who answered the phone asked me to bring my court order. When I responded, "I'm self-appointed," she seemed confused.

"Wait ... You want to voluntarily take this class?" she asked.

"Of course. I'm the kind of person who when I see myself slipping, I search for ways to improve. I want to be the best mother to my children that I can be."

"Good for you."

She seemed shocked, just like my neighbor when I told her I wanted to brush up on my parenting skills in the wake of Cheeks' rash of thrice daily temper tantrums (throwing and breaking stuff, kicking, hitting, spitting ... horrid shit all around).

While I know it's not healthy to model perfection for my children, I know modeling healthy ways to deal with and get to the roots of anger will benefit our whole family. When I see something wrong in myself, then see it negatively affecting and manifesting in my children, I seek to remedy it. Hopefully my children will see me growing and changing for the better and their anger will subside as a result.

I'd like to write more (and more eloquently) but Pigtails just woke up crying from a nap. She has a double ear infection. Cheeks has a single. The Lawyer, along with both of his sibs, has bronchitis accompanied by a nasty wet cough.

Crazed cat update - Our new cat mama seems to have chilled a bit. No more unprovoked attacks on Pigtails or any of the children. She's still skittish but nurturing her brood just fine.

How do you deal with anger in the heat of the moment in front of the kids or otherwise?

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Shoulda', Woulda', Coulda' (Meow/Hiss)

First no-brainer lesson of the day: Never tamper with a postpartum pussycat.

Second no-brainer lesson of the day: Never crawl to a spaying and neutering advocate for help when your fecund feline bubble finally bursts.

Both my family learned the hard way today, but especially my daughter. The puncture wound in her right nostril and raised claw marks on both her forearms serve as sharp reminders that I should have had Trixie the wonder tiger cat spayed after all.

I can see the droves of spaying and neutering advocates already, nodding in agreement that I’m the dumbest cat owner ever. Perhaps “nodding in agreement” doesn’t scratch the surface of their outrage, forgive the kitty cliché.

“How weak to think teaching your children about de’ birds an’ de’ bees is de way with de' kitty having de’ babies!” an animal behavioralist I called in a panic admonished me over the phone. “Dees’ attacks on your doubt-er', let dat’ be lesson enough ‘dat you should spay cat NOW!” Her thick Italian accent kept time with her increasing fury and volume, intensifying every rebuke she hurled in my direction.

"I suppose I wanted to teach them about the miracle of life," I said in response, feeling the need to defend my choice not to "fix" Trixie. "Birth can be a beautiful thing."

"Well, if you don't find homes for dees kitties, well, den' you have just teach your children de miracle of DEATH at de' pound, ey!?" Maryam, the animal "feelings" expert, shouted into the phone. "You have shown your children nutt-eeng but irresponsibility." (An expert in human feelings, perhaps Maryam is not.)

Poor Trixie, nervously adjusting to new motherhood in an environment not even I – one who gave birth to two of three children at home in bed – would choose. Children are loud. I didn’t allow them at my births for several reasons, noise being the first. Perhaps my home's continual din of irritating noises, as well as this morning’s jarring screaming fit from my moodiest child, Cheeks, have driven Trixie to emerge from her darkened, towel lined corner of the hallway closet to attack my two-year-old daughter.

Poor Pigtails. Trixie’s first clawing attack on her shocked me. I shook with nerves for a good fifteen minutes afterward. Pigtails took the clawing better than me, crying only for a minute or so, only to return to her beloved thumbs for some heavy self-soothing sucking (much like the time I accidentally shut her favorite thumb in the sliding minivan door).

Trixie's second attack was worse. She leapt up onto the black arm chair Pigtails quietly watched a Happy Feet DVD from. Out of the three children, the cat seems to have a vendetta for Pigtails only, which seems unfair because Pigtails hasn’t touched or disturbed her four kittens. She's the least interested in the kittens in our family of five.

If anyone should be assaulted in defense of Trixie’s new brood it should be me. I stupidly switched her bloodied towels out for fresh, clean ones and moved the kittens in the process. Major mistake.

Trixie’s instinctively protecting her young in a relatively hostile postpartum environment -- Hostile because of kid rackets, stomping feet and temper tantrums. My young are interfering with her young. This is Mother Nature at her most primal. My children are being children and our cat is being a cat.

While Trixie defends her young, I defend mine. Fearing another unprovoked scratch attack on Pigtails, I’ve shut defensive Trixie in the closet with her sleeping kittens. A Web cam my husband set up moments before her labor points a glowing eye in her direction. I’ll be able to see her claw at the door when she needs to get out to go to the cat box and will immediately respond. I’ll have time to put my daughter in her room behind closed doors, out of Trixie’s wary eyes and dodgy reach.

This is how I’m paying for my mistakes today. “That’s what you get,” spaying and neutering activists might censure. It’s true. But I never expected my daughter to bear the brunt of it.

Third no-brainer lesson of the day (and for the coming days): There are no winners when owners don’t fix their cats.


Thursday, April 12, 2007


My six-year-old doesn’t have to talk behind my back. He can snow me to my face. Sure, I’ll hear him, but won’t understand a word.

He’s teaching his little brother and sister his secret code-talk too. Together, each morning over soggy, brown sugar glazed cubes of shredded wheat and OJ, they conspire in foreign tongues. Suddenly, I’m a stranger in my own house, surrounded by miniature foreigners who look quite like me but speak peculiar words that only they can comprehend.

(Depending on your perspective, you could say that English in California is a foreign tongue. If you agree with that contention, then you might also view Spanish as the state’s indigenous language, like I do. Analyzing exactly who within the Golden State is a “foreigner” and who is not is another blog topic for another day, along with Manifest Destiny, the Mexican American War and the United States’ seizure of California from Mexico, etc.)

My children might soon box me out of the family communication equation and I couldn’t be prouder. What a very dramatic and ridiculous way to allude to The Lawyer’s recent and impressive sudden acquisition of Spanish. (Hey … I’m struggling to blog tonight without complaining for once. Not complaining is something I hope to do more of in “real” life as well but don't hold your breath.)

Thanks to the bilingual curriculum at the progressive dual immersion Charter school we transferred The Lawyer to only weeks ago, he’s picking up America's second most common language far faster than I ever expected. He’s even picked up a hint of a Latin accent when he speaks English.

Yesterday I dropped in on his end-of-the-day homeroom “circle time,” as parents are encouraged to do any time without prior announcement or appointment, with my two youngest and visiting 9-year-old niece. (The kids and I hang out in his multi-grade classes once or twice a week and almost always tag along on his Friday field trips. Aren’t we so cool? Is there a way to say that without sounding like a braggart Alpha mom?)

In Spanish, the Lawyer’s homeroom teacher asked the circle huddled kindergarten, first- and second-grade kids to reflect on their school day and share a sentence or two on what they enjoyed the most. When it came time for the Lawyer to share -- after his cousin bravely quenched a fidgety boy’s curiosity about whether or not she was a newly enrolled student or just a visitor -- I expectantly set my maternal gaze on him. I thought for sure he'd speak English, like his fellow native English speakers (each individual grade is comprised of 10 native Spanish speakers and 10 native English speakers).

Don’t quote me because I can’t understand much Spanish outside of hola, adios and piso mojado, but my son began his circle time contribution something like this, “Yo gusto de él cuando…” He went on about his day in Spanish for almost a full minute. I was blown away. I couldn’t hold back a fulsome 100-watt, proud-mama-dork smile.

I whispered in his ear, “I’m so impressed with your Spanish! What did you say?” He shrugged, looked back at me as if to say, “What’s the big deal, mom?” and uttered nothing.

Later, on the bumper-to-bumper way home from school, from downtown to our suburban enclave, I beat a dead horse by asking just as his teacher did, “What did you like best about school today?”

He replied, simply, “Todo.”

“What’s ‘todo’ mean?” I asked.

“Everything, mom,” he sighed. “I liked everything, okay? Can we talk about something else now?”

Geez, you’d think he were a tormented teen already. I never fail to pepper him with 100 questions on our way home about who he ate lunch with, who he played with and what they played at recess and what he learned, etc. Maybe my routine Q & A is growing moldy for him.

I suppose it isn’t terribly remarkable that The Lawyer can speak another language. Many kids around the world can and do every single day. Perhaps his Spanish acquisition so far might not reflect much more than simple parroting and a salutation stolen here and there. Yet, I'm still in awe.

Tonight my little bilingual beginner skipped through along the kitchen slate as I flipped turkey burgers singing snippets from a song called Buenos Dias that he sings often in Spanish chorus. Earlier in the day, when we picked his little brother up from an experimental extended day at preschool, he greeted his sibling with an exuberant, “Hola, hermano!” I think that means “Hi brother!” I don’t know for sure. The pair hugged in the curt way that grown American men do, barely touching chests while rapid-firing palm pats on each other’s back. Next they raced to the swings, where together they sang a Spanish jingle they’d obviously practiced with each other unbeknownst to me, some ditty about “uno elephante mas.”

"Te amo, mama," ("I love you, mom") was the last thing The Lawyer said to me as he climbed into his daddy's car to head off for school this morning. Te quiero también, hijo.

No, maybe my little linguists aren't conspiring against me. Not just yet. At the top of this post I was simply imagining that they very well could in their coming Spanish heavy elementary school years, just as my parents spoke a sneaky French-English hybrid when they didn’t want me to hear them talk about me or people we knew in a less than favorable light. If their daddy and I don’t catch up with them and pick up Spanish soon, we might be left in the monolingual lurch.

What more could three siblings ask for in the age-old kids versus parents war than a shared secret language with which to confuse and undermine the common enemy? What more could their parents hope for than three fully fluent Spanish-speaking travel mates who could help us stumble our way through Spain once more?

Intentaré escribir más mañana. Adios y buenos noches.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Opposite of a Zen Alarm Clock

Today I ignored Cheeks, and it actually worked.

My tempestuous almost four-year-old wanted a high sentimental value ring that once belonged to my recently deceased grandmother. I wouldn’t budge. Alternative rings were offered instead. He wouldn't budge either.

The garish red plastic rose ring bought on a whim to accent an embroidered Bohemian halter-top. Nope. Wouldn’t do.

The silver band inscribed with curious Asian characters that I can’t figure out but are very much in style at Pier 1 and Cost Plus World Market. Nope. Wouldn’t do.

My own wedding bands and engagement ring. What? Are you kidding me? Homie don't play that.

I frenziedly looted my jewelry boxes like I was casing a broken glass littered L.A. corner store on April 29, 1992.

Just as I dug up a ratty old hemp necklace, the one that stinks like rotten mushrooms that I could’ve sworn I’d left at my room in the “hemp activist” house in college from beneath a clump of orphaned earrings and knotted chains, I began to wonder, “Why am I playing Best Supporting Actress in another of Cheeks’ productions? No matter what I offer him, it still won't be what he wants. Why play along? I wonder what happens when I stop.”

So I stopped. I shut my ransacked jewelry boxes and walked away.

“MOMMY, I WANNA’ RING! MOMMY, I WANNA RING!” (Repeat. Rinse brain. Wring out brain. Repeat. Repeat on auto replay until you’re on the brink of rinsing your kid in the washing machine instead of his sand peppered carpenter jeans.)


Repeat while hardly allowing for life-giving breaths in between. Repeat from the recesses of your nose to sound as nasal and annoying as possible. Repeat for a whole 20 minutes more.


Ignore child while splashing a sad one percent watery excuse for cow’s milk into your strong enough to put hair on your chest oversized mug of coffee.

Continuing ignoring child, who incessantly barks at your knees something you’re trying to tune out about some ring you’re trying desperately to have forgotten about 10 minutes ago.

Think to yourself about how this newfangled (at least newfangled to you) ignoring tantrum technique works the opposite of your notoriously difficult to wake husband’s Blackberry programmed Zen alarm clock sound – an incremental digital Tibetan bell chime that slowly dings and dongs from quiet to loud. Except Cheeks goes from loud to soft. (Who said it is better to burn out than fade away? Neil Young? Random question there … )

WHAT? Loud to soft? Is ignoring Cheeks tantrum/tirade/demand for Memere’s “heirloom” QVC jewelry actually working in my favor? Double check coffee to see that you didn’t accidentally pour Electrosol detergent into your vanishing coffee trough. Rub eyes to make sure this isn’t a dream.

Ah-ha … Perhaps negative attention IS better than no attention, as the so-called experts say. Without his big brother to dote on him and engage him all the day, Cheeks might be feeling left in the lurch, lonely, starved for attention. Any attention. Even the kind elicited by behaving like a punk.

Sneak from the black slate kitchen floor to the wooden floorboards of the living room to fold a load of ineffectively harmonized lights and darks. Hope that Cheeks won’t trail behind wailing “I WANNA RING NOW, MOMMY!” like Meatloaf with a megaphone directly in your overly sensitive ears.

Turn around and nearly fall over on your dumpy, out-of-shape junk-trunk to see that the only thing behind you is your shadow. Cheeks is no where to be seen or even heard.

Glance over to the playroom to find Cheeks appearing dejected, dumping out woven toy baskets, presumably in search of one of his sister’s gaudy plastic dress-up rings.

My first experiment with (finally, come on, I have three kids … you’d think I’d have a better tolerance for this crud) ignoring Cheeks’ negative behavior, was mostly successful, well, depending on how you look at it. Cheeks certainly wouldn’t agree.

‘Gotta go. He’s revving up for his usual nighttime terrors now. ‘Better take care of it before the dreaded domino wake-up effect has me ignoring them all.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

So This Noise-Phobe Gives Birth to a Screamer ...

I hate loud noises. I mean freakishly OCD hate loud noises. I also happen to be the maternal recipient of a screamer. My middle son, who is almost four, is a screamer supreme, and he's screaming loud enough for the neighbors to wonder if I'm hurting him.

Zilch patience is my M.O. when it comes to his screamfests, which is probably why I've received this loud life-lesson gift that I'm now forced to unwrap and learn to accept with grace.

As I type my scream machine is currently spastically flipping like a fish out of water, thrashing naked in his bed, howling like a wild banshee in an overdrive tantrum fit.

"So why the Hell are you blogging instead of soothing him right now?" you might ask.

Before you're tempted to assume that I'm a big, mean, neglectful mama for ignoring my audio nightmare babe at this moment, let me explain how he boiled over in the first place and how I ended up steaming and throwing my hands up in deafening defeat.

For far too many precious nighttime minutes (his high-pitched wails are keeping my other two children awake well past bedtime going on 20 minutes now), I've attempted to comfort my son, tried in vain to unearth the source of his flaming upset.

As it turns out, he wants me to dress him for bed.

Damn. You'd think a bigger beef than that would have set him off, something more dramatic to justify such dramatic behavior. Well, I'm not maternally wet behind the ears enough to buy that not wanting to slap Spiderman pajamas on, a skill my son has long mastered, is the sole culprit behind his holy felonious freak-out. Throw in a major case of the over-tireds that I'll explain later ... and here we are on scaling a slippery scream-slope ...

So, he demands full blast that I dress him. He pulls the same "negative attention" games when asked day in and day out to strap himself into his car seat. He took a swipe at me when I refused to dress him and missed. Before refusing, I offered to help a bit instead (holding his shirt open for him, etc.) but he wouldn't be baited.

"Fine. Sleep naked. Birthday suit yourself," I said, giving up.

I resolved to not pander to his fit. I even threatened him with a spanking, which is so NOT how I want to parent. EVER. Sometimes parent-child situations escalate with such intensity. I'm sure you moms of challenging, fitful three-year-old kids know exactly what I'm talking about, even though no one ever really talks about it. Desperate for a solution. Desperate for his fit to stop, as if he were a colicky newborn ... These are the only ways I can think of to describe the feelings that persist when he's in the throws of an extended limbs-akimbo tantrum.

Thursday nights never flow smooth and easy for our family, as if any really do. Thursdays are one of the two days a week my moody little mister goes to preschool for a short four-hour stretch. By the time bedtime rolls around, he's overcooked from an active day at school and agitated by a severe lack of nap. He ends up burned out on being able to cope with just about anything, even simple tasks like eating dinner, bathing and dressing himself for bed. Clearly, we need a better schedule (arrive at school earlier and pick him up early enough to squeeze in a nap that won't further sabotage bedtime ... hmmm ... I wonder if that would suit us better ... ).

Tonight was particularly challenging for him because we zipped from his school to pick his brother up from kindergarten. From there, we whisked north to my sister-in-law's well put-together Easter egg hunt/egg decorating party. Poor little guy. Our day's fast-paced adventures proved too much for him and he melted into million little smeary pieces, just like the random chunk of Lindt chocolate favor-bag bunny that landed up in my bra and left a smudge-trail all over my chest.

Believe me, I tried "dialogue-ing" to allay his upset. I did the best I could for as long as I could. But I exhausted the mirroring. I blew the reflective listening. I screwed up all my "I" statements. I'm through. He'll just have to cry it out this time, experts who disagree with my last-ditch approach be damned.

I think it would be good for my screaming one and myself if I commit to examine, grasp and improve my red-hot reactions to his recurrent screaming fits. I'm not sure if I truly want to take on such a task now that I think of it. Delving deeply into such inevitably uncomfortable ground isn't exactly how I want to spend my free time ... but here goes, at least a tiny bit.

Descriptive words (for his fits, my reactions to his fits and his counter-reaction to my reactions):
Sensory overload

Angry in reaction to his anger
Sad that I can't better handle my own child's intensity at times
Disappointed that I can't better apply non-punitive interventions/limit-setting
Rejected when my many attempts to calm him fail

Okay, that's enough. Too much.

I think I've reached the point where I am no longer able to have compassion for him when he throws tantrums. My once-reassuring reactions have lapsed into callous, abrupt and threatening snips. Why does bedtime have to be such an ongoing struggle? Why must my youngest two literally tag-team-scream beg for me nightly? Don't they know that I'm not worth all that fuss anyway?

Why can't we go back to when their daddy put them to bed one night, then me the next? We used to be interchangeable when it came to our long-established bath, books and bed routine. Why must they cling so hard to me at night, even after they haven't seen their daddy all day?

Because I'm their mother, that's why. As much as I unconditionally love them, they love me unconditionally back, even when I mother them like a fed-up jerk.

Blogging/writing/journaling calms me down better than yoga and meditation. Now if I only knew how to calm my fickle screamer.

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Spoofed on YouBoob

There's nothing quite like art imitating life. Then there's nothing like art imitating YOUR life.

(I wouldn't exactly call YouTube art. In the majority of cases I wouldn't call YouTube art at all. I'm tired and trying to draw an intelligible comparison but likely am failing. You'll see where I'm going with this in a second, I hope.)

Last night, right before midnight when I was ready to crash for the night, I checked my YouTube page and found a college student's video response to my mindless "yoga flatulence" video, a useless vlog I did for shits and giggles. Nothing more.

Well, this girl has me down. She does me better than me. Scary.

It's bizarre to be spoofed/under-studied. She swears she isn't making fun of me, that it's for a legitimate college class that examines human behavior. I actually believe her.

Who knows?

This is what's on my mind as I wake my house up for the day ...

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Words: No Returns Allowed, Not Even With a Receipt

"I can't wait until I'm an adult, so I can get away from you!"

Tonight, in a vein popping rage, this was what my six-year-old son screamed at me, inches from my face.

He was in "time-out." I could have used a time-out too.

Sadly, an hour after his blowup he cried himself to sleep, wishing he could eat his words. Even after I told him I'll love him no matter what he ever says. No matter how hurtful, intentional or otherwise. He'll still be my son and I'll be his mother.

"Our love is bigger than words, especially ones spoken in the heat of anger," I assured him. He wasn't going for it and must have said sorry a dozen times.

The power of anger is immeasurable, I told him. Anger makes us say the most hurtful things at times. Things we wish we could take back but never really can.

"So you'll never forget that mean stuff I said?" he asked, wiping his tear streaked cheeks with his wrist.

"Of course, I will," I said with my forehead gently pressed to his forehead. "I already did. Don't ask me what you said because I already forgot."

We talked about ways to cool off before blowing up and speaking spitefully. Calming down and thinking our emotions out is something neither of us excel at. Our combined weaknesses could really hurt our relationship if we're not careful.

He's lucky I know better than to take such spiteful words personally from a young child. Don't get me wrong, though. In the first five to ten seconds following his angry words, I didn't handle it well at all, not even like an adult, really -- I wheeled his rolling Spiderman backpack in his direction and said, "Be my guest."

He didn't get the joke. Then again, I wasn't joking all that much. I was incensed. Perhaps I did take it a bit personally. Flawed humans.

In the end, I felt as terribly rotten as he said he did about saying it in the first place.

What a night. Thank goodness for long, meaningful mother-son talks and extended hugs.

Here's something I read (ew - in my bathroom) last night about teaching children to interpret others' behavior in order to be better prepared for kindergarten and the school years ahead: " ... If the child has learned something about moods and human frailty, if he's been taught to interpret certain types of behavior, he's not apt to be so upset by such experiences ... In addition to reading the behavior of others, a child needs to learn how to interpret his own behavior."

ABCs, 123s and mood and behavior interpretation? Obviously I missed the last part of class.

Like I always say to my husband, we are doing the best we can as parents, but we're still human. We're still flawed and mistakes will be made.

And as I always tell my children, mistakes are not to be feared. Mistakes made in anger are normal. Feelings are normal. Even the ones that feel scary when they unfold. Mistakes are merely opportunities to learn.


Did I Just Earn Myself a New Acronym?

My morning mug of coffee goes down like liquid velvet. Birds chirping, the tick-tock of a wall clock and my own keyboard pecks are the only sounds I hear. My two youngest are still asleep and their big brother is already off to his first day back at kindergarten following two weeks of Spring break.

I'm mulling a few things in the finite peace and quiet. Nothing major. Some items notable. Other passing and insignificant.

Let's start with a significant realization: Mama can still bring home the bacon. Make that mama can still bring home the bacon (work) FROM HOME -- even while the kids are still young enough to BE HOME, right alongside her, attempting to steal her attention from earning that very bacon.

Yes, I'm fresh off of two contract copyrighting jobs, one big, one small. Jobs that jogged my writing/editing brain. Jobs that reminded me that I "still got it." Jobs that rebooted my dwindling intellect. Jobs that made me feel proud that I accomplished them at all with three young children afoot, only feet away from their laptop-absorbed mama.

Jobs I couldn't have done without the help of fellow working mamas (thanks so much, Amanda) and mini-mamas (babysitters Alex and Camille). Jobs that I couldn't have done without the ever-patient Hubster's battery, memory and wireless card upgrades to my laptop, and without his uncanny ability to listen to me bitch about said jobs for hours on end. Oh, and there's the hours and hours of daddy-ing (I refuse to call this "babysitting" because it's simply not when you're the father) he logged in my absence (during my exciting "alone time" work escapes to free wireless-enabled coffee house after coffee house).

Jobs that made me feel rusty and naive for a number of reasons, the key reason being NOT CHARGING HOURLY and a HELL OF A LOT MORE. Jobs that made me wish I didn't obssess over the details, didn't expect perfection from myself. Jobs that I learned too late I could have charged upwards of $120 an hour for. Major mistake. Never again will I rush into work without having properly researched the market's "going rate" for comparable work/skills. (How could I afford to be picky when hard up for cash? I couldn't. I was happy to have paying work at all.)

Jobs that made me realize that I should have been achieving this kind of rewarding, paying work all along, all through my six years as a stay-home mom. Jobs that made me feel like a slouch for not taking them on earlier, for not easing my husband's financial stress before today.

(How many sentences can I feebly start with "Jobs"? Let me see ...)

Jobs. Work. Actual career output. Creative fulfillment. Reasons to wake up and get dressed OTHER than the kids, who must always be fed, nutritionally, physically, spiritually, developmentally and in every other way possible.

Last week, while steeped in 20-something neighborhood descriptions that I somehow meticulously researched and carefully wrote in stolen half-moments between (unhealthful, rushed) meals, (7-Eleven) groceries, (where's the clean underwear around here?) laundry, (so this is how Penicillin was discovered) dishes, (Shoot. We're late for another game!) basketball practices, (Um, late again?!) school drop-offs and pick-ups, I realized that I CAN work and stay-home mom (that's right - SAHM is more than a noun, it's verb ... just go with it, okay?).

Despite three-, four- and five-hour nights of sleep, despite mounting dust I never really dusted or could be bothered with in the first place, I CAN. I DID. I WORKED. (Crap. Now that he knows I can do both mom-ing and working, my husband will no doubt expect me to take on more!)

While helping feed the family (a teeny bit financially and generously literally), I fed myself. I fed my interests. I fed my writing passions. I won't hide that I fed my writer's ego a bit too. Okay, a lot.

There's something to be said for still chasing your career dreams while at-home mothering. Even if it's a bitch to do. Even if you aren't exactly writing fulfilling, award-winning content. I will never again shelve my selfish career desires. Thanks to WAHM-ing, I realize that I can dedicate far more time than before to crafting my book. No stalling. No whining. No excuses. No inhaling a pint of Ben and Jerry's instead of writing.

'Much respect to work-at-home moms who come 'round my (blog) way. For once, I DO know how you do it.