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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Get Outta My Face

When I run for elected office -- I'm debating President of the United States or President of my book club -- know this:  My solution for vamoosing some of our kajillion dollars in national debt will include the sale of Florida.

I've floated this idea before in the Twittersphere, and it gained huge traction among my dozens of followers.  My list for why the state should be forced into secession is now one bullet point longer.  And this is the kind of bullet point that eclipses every other point in the history of bullets.

  • Florida is where people get their faces eaten.

Kinda gives a whole new meaning to "face-to-face confrontation."  Or "in your face."  Or "facial."

I am going to stop that train of thought in its tracks.  It's on a one-way trip to Disrespectful Town.  Actually, it may have already reached its destination.

Because what went down in Miami this past Saturday afternoon is the height of horrific gruesomeness.  If you haven't heard about it, you probably live in a viewing area where the broadcasters get to nix any storyline that makes their news anchors vomit in their mouths as they try to keep up with the teleprompter. 

Whether you come at this post with zero background or a growing portfolio of newspaper clippings on the event, I'd recommend you put down the Mountain Dew and the pop rockets.  Both because that's a dangerous combination and because things are about to get nasty up in here.

Here's the deal.  A guy was taking a leisurely bike ride near the Miami causeway at 2PM on Saturday afternoon.  As he was enjoying the light Memorial Day weekend traffic and the smell of suntan lotion in the air, something caught his eye.  That something was the sight of two naked, grown men on the sidewalk near the causeway.  One of those men was leaning over the body of the other in a Crouching Maniac, Hidden Cannibal kind of way.  As the biker approached, he experienced one of those moments in life that isn't a moment in life because this moment never has previously happened in anyone's life.  He realized that Crouching Maniac was chewing.  Specifically, he was chewing the face of the other man.

The preceding sentence is literal.  I am not trying to pull some grammatical trick for literary effect.  Literally, Crouching Maniac was eating the face of the hapless victim.

The biker yelled at Crouching Maniac to stop.  Maybe the biker also threw a Power Bar at him to see if that would work as some kind of distraction.  No dice.  So the biker took off as fast as his 10-speed would carry him and flagged down the first cop he could find.  Said cop approached the scene and repeated the pleas for Crouching Maniac to please stop with the mid-afternoon massacre already.  Again, no dice.  In fact, Crouching Maniac's only response was to GROWL at the cop.  So the cop shot Crouching Maniac.  And even THAT didn't work.  Crouching Maniac wouldn't stop crouching or being a maniac until the cop had shot him several times, resulting in Crouching Maniac's death.

You know you're witnessing quite a scene when multiple deadly gunshot wounds seem like the most humane offering this side of a Mother Theresa sponge bath.

When the carnage finally ended, the victim was rushed to the hospital with only his goatee remaining.  Again, the preceding sentence is literal. 

In the aftermath, the cop that came upon naked Hannibal Lecter wasn't identified because he was so traumatized.  The biker has been interviewed in the press.  The fact that he can still talk pre-qualifies him for some kind of diplomatic post in Syria or Russia, I think.  Because that's fortitude.

The rest of the free world is wondering what in God's name is wrong with Florida.

While the authorities remain tight-lipped (perhaps because of a new-found appreciation for their lips), there have been reports that some suspect that Crouching Maniac was high on bath salts.  One policeman noted that bath salts often cause people to become super-humanly violent and inspire them to take off their clothes.  He adroitly noted that he was previously unaware of bath salts inspiring someone to eat the face of another man.

Bath salts, you wonder?  Those little crystals that are supposed to dissolve but remain disturbingly solid in that relaxing bath you never have time to take?  Yup, those are the ones.  Apparently those are the new street drug of choice. 

They are sold by legitimate stores under the guise of being actual bath salts or deodorizers or pool cleaners.  They come in small packets, containing just the right amount to ingest or snort for a meth-like high.  While Florida banned these products last year, they can't keep up with the manufacturers, who simply change the chemical compounds of the crystals to remain one step ahead of the law and its pesky bans.

According to the DEA, users of bath salts experience highs whose side effects include "agitation, insomnia, irritability, dizziness, depression, paranoia, delusions, suicidal thoughts, seizures, and panic attacks.  Users have also reported effects including impaired perception of reality, reduced motor control, and decreased ability to think clearly."  One dude, who bragged about all the other drugs he'd done, said his high off "bath salts" lasted 8 agonizing days, during which he wanted to kill himself and everyone around him.

A high like that from an over-the-counter home refreshener that costs a couple bucks a pop?  BAR-GAIN.

Actually, let's flip that coin for a second.  If anyone within range of cable news, print media, or this blog post EVER contemplates trying bath salts EVER in this or future lifetimes, they are crazier than Crouching Maniac was.  Do you really want to mess with something that might have you eating faces?  If parents can't scare their kids away from these substances now, they should hand over the reins and have their responsibility orbit limited to keeping ice cold.  There is no scenario in which the face-eating threat doesn't trump the impulses of even the stupidest teenager. 

  • "Have fun at the prom, Timmy.  But remember, if someone offers you bath salts, just say no.  Jenny has a lovely face, but how embarrassed would you feel if you ATE IT?!?"
  • "I heard Billy has been experimenting with bath salts.  I don't want you hanging around with him anymore.  I'd like you to have both cheeks."
  • "Do you really want to have to look at yourself in the mirror one day and think I wish I was looking at myself in the mirror but I'm not because I did bath salts with Joey one slow Saturday night and he ate my eyeballs?"
But I suspect we all could have taken a more academic approach to the whole "bath salts" thing and gotten scared enough by textual description alone.  I don't think we needed Florida to give us another off-the-charts madman to hammer the lesson home.

Sidenote to Crouching Maniac's girlfriend-widow: your protestations that he must have been hexed by a Voodoo curse are helping no one.

Bottom line:  Let's ban the sale of bath salts in all its possible forms and start getting serious about promoting the sale of Florida.  That panhandle looks like it's just asking to be ripped off from the continental U.S. in the same maneuver usually reserved for breaking the turkey's wishbone at Thanksgiving.

As an added bonus, keep in mind that Donald Trump owns a huge compound in Palm Beach.  We can throw him into the deal.  (Mitt, he'll still be able to mail you checks.)

(Yes, Mitt Romney reads this blog.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hall Pass

Given my behavior on Memorial Day, it is not much of a confession for me to admit that I often fail in social situations.  I can be terribly awkward, terribly shy, and am most probably terribly dressed

There is one scenario that has really been nagging at me, now that I've rejoined the work force.  It's one that I think has plagued me since I became aware of myself in relation to other people.  I would peg that moment to be sometime in elementary school.  Others might peg it for me to have been more like high school.  Either way, it's been an issue for a while.

Here it is: What is the proper etiquette for approaching and then passing someone in a hallway?

I'm guessing most of you have some idea what I'm talking about and why it can be problematic.  To take an example, you're headed back from the bathroom and your colleague is headed towards the copy machine.  You have about twenty feet of ground to cover, all of it in the direction of the guy who needs to make a copy and who's walking towards you.  These are the variables that I identify in such a situation:
  • At what point in those twenty feet do you make eye contact?
  • Once made, how long do you hold eye contact?
  • What's the appropriate physical cue that you recognize the person coming at you?  A head nod?  A smile?  A wave?  A high five?
  • Is it polite to try to make some lightning-speed small talk? 
Assuming I make it reasonably through the first three hurdles, it's the last one that truly tests me.  I am the worst at small talk, mostly because I think it's so, well, small.  I'm not getting much out of the tenth time I've commented on today's weather or my "case of the Mondays," so surely my listener is equally unenthusiastic about hearing that drivel.  But if we're eye-contacting and  nodding and walking in silence, is that just all the more awkward?  Should I try to make some joke about not getting stuck in the copier, or offer a recommendation to avoid the free donuts left out on the counter nearby?

The one solace I can take is that there seem to be a good bunch of us who have yet to master hall-passing.  Indeed, I've noticed that there are a wide variety of Hall Passers, and none of them really scream out for imitation.  My current tally includes:

  • The Avoider.  This is the person who keeps their eyes down and pretends you don't exist generally, much less take up space nearby specifically.  These are probably the same people who have a big presence in the on-line chess club circuit and own multiple cats.
  • The Heavy Breather.  This is the person who used to be an Avoider.  Then they gained a little extra weight.  Now they're so busy breathing heavily as they walk to retrieve a fax that they do look up, but only to be sure you're paying attention to the panting and look light enough on your feet to spring to the nearest phone to call an ambulance in the event the fax machine has been moved 5 feet further down the hall.
  • The Faker.  This person would like to have the guts to fully commit to being an Avoider, but politeness or nervousness deprives them of that comfort.  Instead, just as you're about to pass, the Faker looks up, feigns surprise at your proximity, and gives you an "Oh, hey!"  Then they duck into a corner, scan the horizon, and proceed to their final destination.  But only after they recall the passage from the Hunger Games where Katniss summons the courage to go to the provision pile to retrieve a bow and arrow or something.
  • The Jocker.  This is a guy who used to be an athlete, a member of a fraternity, and a driver of a Camaro.  Now he's a father with a beer gut and a Honda Pilot, but he relives the glory days by continuing to act like the ass he was 20 years ago.  Everything he does is at an exaggerated decibel.  He greets people with a whack to the back, eats with both hands, laughs in a roar, and goes everywhere with a beer koozie that his wife monogrammed in a vain attempt to make it look less desperate.  Accordingly, when passing anyone in the halls, the Jocker points at his soon-to-be-passer from far away, yells out to her using a nickname only he uses, and does the finger-point gun-firing thing as they actually pass.  Then he goes to the bathroom, returns to his desk, and tells everyone in hearing distance about what he did in the bathroom.
  • The Librarian.  This is the person who whips out any form of reading material in arms' length when making a hall pass.  It could be an iPhone, the newspaper, or the receipt that fell out of someone else's pocket during a previous hall catastrophe.  Regardless, the Librarian buries her nose deep into that literature, plants a furrow in her brow, and looks up to acknowledge her passer-by only when it seems plausible for her to have a chance to tear her attention away from the DEFCON-1 importance of her reading.
  • The IT Guy.  This is the IT guy who spends his entire day talking at his cubicle, in his meeting, or in the cafeteria.  His talking is usually a verbalization of whatever coding or problem-solving or bragging he's doing in his brain, which he always wants broadcast at the highest volume of nerd speak.  When he does a hall pass, it's an opportunity for him to share his knowledge in an upright, looking-out posture.  The passer-by, as the unwitting and unfortunate audience, must simply absorb the nerd speak and pretend some level of respect and admiration, lest the IT Guy deem you not impressed enough and take a detour to follow you until you tell him he's the smartest guy you've ever passed in a hall.  The IT Guy is the only breed of human to enjoy hall passing.
So that's my current list.  I think I currently fall somewhere on the Avoider/Faker/Librarian spectrum.  I'd like to be able to create a new category called The Normal Person and take up residency in it, but I'm just not sure how.

Do you have a new category to add to the list?  Or suggestions for how to normalize my hall-passing encounters?

Do tell.

Or, stop me the next time we pass in the hall and share them with me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Before the Parade Passes By

The older I get, the more I despise certain holidays and appreciate others.  On the "more despise" list are New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day.  On the "more appreciate" list is Memorial Day.  All the others currently occupy the same place on my emotional reactionary radar as they always have.  I will keep you posted if any move up or down in my rankings. 

This is kind of the same type of enjoyment you get from hearing about NFL power rankings.  I know.

Memorial Day is sneaky in its awesomeness.  Everyone has a vague sense of its meaning: honor the people who have fought to keep this country the type of place where a woman can decide if she wants to vote into the presidency a man who happens to be black.  But no one quite understands what makes Memorial Day remarkably different from Veterans' Day, other than that the former is in May and the latter is in November.  Everyone looks forward to the long weekend Memorial Day affords, but no one expects a card or a present to mark the occasion.  It's a holiday that asks little of its celebrants while recognizing those who sacrificed a lot.

Therein lies the awesomeness.  When's the last time you ever had a to-do list associated with Memorial Day?  Never.  What's the last Memorial Day gift you stressed over?  You don't have an answer, because that's a trick question.  Who's the last relative you dreaded coming over for the big Memorial Day meal?  No one, because on Memorial Day, you only have to be with the people you choose to be with.

And when's the last time you took a moment or two or ten to think about the guys and gals that wake up in the morning to a pang of homesickness and a knot of worry about whether the day will bring a roadside bomb or a downed helicopter or a surprise Joe Biden pep talk?  Hopefully yesterday is your answer.  But before yesterday, your answer was probably Veterans' Day 2011.

So on Memorial Day you go to a parade in the morning and you give the smallest thanks in the history of thanking in relation to the gift you've received.  You clap at the uniforms, cheer for the bands, and maybe tear up at the speech or the singing of the national anthem.

Then you go home and you fire up the grill.  You see some friends.  You get a sun burn.  You keep forgetting it's Monday.  You watch some basketball.  You go to sleep.

Thank you, armed forces of all generations.  You do the hard and dirty work and only ask for a parade and a burger in return.  Sure makes Jesus look like a pretty demanding guy.

Yesterday, we celebrated in high Memorial Day fashion.  I dressed my kids in red, white and blue.  My husband, mother and I took them to our town's parade.  We waved the little American flags the parade hosts were passing out to the 200 or so people lining the parade route...which spans about a quarter of a mile.

Needless to say, our town's parade is quaint out of one eye and kind of a let-down out of the other.  The attendees are either families like mine, with young children, or our town's oldest citizens.  In fact, Memorial Day may be the one day of the year that older set breaths natural air.  It makes for a somewhat odd mix along the parade route.  The younger set is ferociously prowling for the free candy, and the older set is maintaining a strict proximity to the ambulance camped out on the corner.

This year's parade lasted about 7 minutes.  Less than the time it takes me to check out of the grocery store.  Here's the breakdown:

  • Minute 1: 8 old fashioned cars driven by old fashioned humans
  • Minute 2: 1 old fashioned sleigh or something driven by grandma and mama, who spent most of her time making sure her daughter (holding a pail for some reason) doesn't fall off
  • Minute 3: 1 girl on a unicycle holding the hand of 1 gullible friend
  • Minute 3:30: 3 make-shift "floats" with metal folding chairs, on which sit veterans from unidentified wars waving nervously as the "float" lists and creaks
  • Minute 4: 1 team of spelling bee contestants lugging their purple-spangled trophy in a red metal wagon
  • Minute 5: 1 cluster of volunteer firefighters, followed by 1 firetruck
  • Minute 6: 80 highly-embarrassed high schoolers pretending to be a marching band and playing the exact same song that faux-band has played at this event since 1983
  • Minute 7: 133 6-10 year-olds, plus their parents, wearing their Little League uniforms and carrying sagging bags of candy
Not surprisingly, but perhaps inappropriately, it's the last group that really gets the crowd riled up.  Everyone was quietly oohing at the old cars and scratching their heads at the unicyclist and the spelling bee cluster.  The band elicited lots of "poor things" comments.  The actual veterans got polite claps and waves.  But the Little Leaguers.  Boy oh boy.  It was as if Harry Potter were giving a piggy-back to Justin Bieber while he read the Hunger Games.  The young portion of the crowd erupted in squeals and extended hands that looked like a greedy version of a politically incorrect hand salute.  The hysteria of mere dozens of sugar-jonesing youngsters is a thing to behold.

Not to brag, but I had anticipated the hysteria-wave.  To be frank, the previous 6 minutes of the parade had been something of a snooze.  I had talked up the parade big-time.  Even invited another family to come with us.  And up until the Little Leaguers, it had inspired the same degree of patriotism that cutting a "Made in Taiwan" label off your t-shirt does.  I felt responsible for the let-down, but figured I might have a chance of salvaging the morning with the whole candy thing. 

When I saw the arrival of the polyester uniforms on the horizon, I got my pack of candy-eaters ready.  I put them front and center on the curb.  I showed them how to make grabby fists.  I screamed "this is what we came here for!  Make me proud!"  And I waited for it to rain dum-dums.

Well, there was a barrage of sugar, but it didn't make it to the sidelines of the parade, as any decent barrage of sugar should.  Instead, those wily Little Leaguers were simply THROWING THE CANDY AT EACH OTHER.  Those kindergartners and 3rd graders snatched their caps off their heads and started filling them with the Swedish Fish that the Pizza Pirates were throwing, or the nerds that the Wal-Mart Walruses were underhanding.  My assembled preschoolers watched on in increasing panic and horror.

It was right about the time my daughter reached for a jawbreaker and had it ripped out of her hands by someone wielding a catcher's mitt that I did it.  I jumped into the oncoming traffic of the slow-moving parade, spied a lollipop shaped like a princess castle, and went for it.  Just as I began to smoosh my son in the Baby Bjorn to reach down to grab what was rightfully mine, a 4-foot-thief came in to steal it.  Like any mature woman and mother would do, I STUCK MY FOOT OUT AND STEPPED ON THE TREAT SO HE COULDN'T TAKE IT.  Like some kid at a birthday party fighting for the pinata innards.

I woke from my trance only when my husband screamed out, over the din, "Abby!  What in Christ are you doing?!?"

I looked up, wiped the drool from my lip, and shame-facedly resumed my position on the curb. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you respect Memorial Day.  You take a perfectly good day and act like the worst version of yourself so that the heroes you're celebrating can feel that much better about themselves. 

In spite of myself, I still had a great day. 

See?  Memorial Day is indestructibly awesome.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dear Abby: How Will I Know?

It's Week Two of the Dear Abby extravaganza!   Why don't you take a few minutes to kick your feet up and give this a little read before you hop in the car to sit in traffic for six hours?  I'm pretty sure hamburgers taste as good at your destination as they do in your own backyard, so there's no need to rush into National Bar-B-Que Weekend.  And posts like this only come along once in a, week.

Last week, we explored mom-on-mom cannibalism in all its over-hyped, under-rationalized glory.  This week, we're going to put the proverbial horse before the proverbial cart and muse on another reader's question:

How do I (and my wife) know when we're ready to have kids?

Even if you know, at some basic level, that you want to have kids someday, the question of when someday becomes today is a big one.  In fact, I think it is The Big Question of most people's lives.  I'm not the first to point out that having a child is the one decision you cannot un-make.  You can transfer schools, leave a job, divorce a spouse, sell a house, and send your entree back.  But once that baby comes into the world, you will be forever defined as a parent.  You may be a good parent or a bad parent or a helicopter parent or an absent parent.  Whatever kind of parent you are, the point is you're a parent.  Switch the adjective, absorb the noun.

I think we can all agree that, if I've achieved anything thus far in the post, I've now sent today's questioner and others like him searching for the nearest paper bag.  In the distance, I can hear someone screaming, "I know I'm supposed to be taking this shit seriously, but did you have to go and turn up the volume?!?"  Yes, in fact.  I did.  It's called an INTRODUCTION. 

In my mind's eye, I had always seen myself with children.  I hoped for two, and hoped to have them when I was relatively young.  Once I became an attorney working insane hours, though, I started to wonder when I was going to be able to fit a baby into the frenetic pace of my life...and into my small Manhattan apartment.  I distinctly remember boarding the 6 train at the 86th Street station to head south to my office one morning and being hit with a wave of nervous confusion.  Don't ask me why, but at that very early hour on a muggy summer morning, I was consumed with a single question: when am I ever going to be ready to become a mother?

I soon resolved that I was going to stop thinking about it, because it was so out of the realm of possibility for my husband and I at the time.  Both of us were working at a grueling pace, we had little to no disposable income, and we had still only been married for a short time.

A couple years later, something great happened.  Well, great for me, not so great for those hoping I can shed some light on the baby-timing dilemma.  The great-for-me thing was that all of a sudden, something in me just clicked.  I powerfully and clearly and absolutely felt the need, the urge, the pure desire to have a baby.  And guess what?  The feeling first struck when I was taking the exact same subway commute as I'd been taking when I first felt so utterly whacked out by the whole proposition.  Bizarrely poetic.  Or just bizarre.  (Or statistically not so interesting, given the amount of mornings I commuted to work on the 6 train.)

I didn't question the feeling, just like I had somehow convinced myself not to obsess over my previous confusion. 

I don't think my husband ever felt a similar impulse on the issue.  When I told him about mine, he listened with a certain tinge of fear in his eyes, but it didn't take too long for him to get on board.

Given my story, when people ask me how I knew I was ready, my response is completely unhelpful: I just knew.

Maybe that's not so unhelpful, actually.  The lesson there is that life or biology or your subconscious or whatever can be trusted to throw you a bone.  Even though it's a huge question, the answer may come from as simple a place as your gut.  I can tell you that I trusted mine, and it worked for me.

On the other hand, maybe you're keeping my first response in the "unhelpful" column.  You want more concrete analysis from someone who's been on both sides of the decision.  For you, I present some practical considerations that I think can help you determine if you're ready for some company.  Of the 7-pound, 21-inch, no hair or musculature variety. 

1.  Do you have the money?

This is a crass and perhaps unsentimental place to start, but you discarded my whole "trust your gut" approach, so I'm thinking practicality is your thing.  There's nothing more practical than coming to terms with the fact that babies are expensive.  So are the kids that babies grow up to be.  Being pregnant means an entirely new wardrobe for mom.  I'm talking top-to-bottom wardrobe here, from undergarments to shoes.  Plus all the hats for the days mom is too tired or nauseous to do her hair.  The hospital stay for birthing the baby will cost thousands of dollars.  Then all the baby gear.  The diapers, the wipes, the onesies, the spit-up cloths, the crib, the changing table, the rocking chair.  And those are just the basics.  People will tell you that you need a stroller that costs more than your rent, a bottle warmer, a wipes warmer, multiple ointments and creams, every outfit you ever see in a baby-store window, and every variation of pillow.  I can tell you that you actually need none of those things, but you won't believe me.  You should just take an honest look at your finances and answer for yourself: can I afford every variation of Sophie the Giraffe, that cover for the shopping cart, and the sheep that makes noises to put my kid in a catatonic trance?  If the answer is no, maybe you should hold off.  If the answer is that you don't believe in providing for the comforts of others, maybe you should get a fish and walk away from the baby idea for good.

2.  Do you have the space?

When a little bundle of joy first arrives, the only free space really required is a bassinet for sleeping, a flat surface for diaper changing, and your front torso for holding.  Then that bundle morphs into a more three-dimensional object and starts doing things like rolling over and crawling and teetering and tottering and walking.  Then that three-dimensional object morphs into a tornado and spends years running, hiding, and jumping.  Usually when you're trying to get them dressed.

So you're gonna need some space.  For the little person itself, and also for all that gear I mentioned above.  If you live at the L.A.'s Staples Center or one of the homes Brad & Angie are not currently using, then you can skip this step.  You're fine on space.

Otherwise, consider the following.  When we lived in Manhattan, my daughter's stroller was forced to serve both as a baby vehicle and as a piece of furniture -- it was so big relative to our tiny "foyer" that we had no choice but to hang coats on it and store snacks in it.  You're going to need to be able to dedicate sections of your counter-space and shelves of your cabinets to bottles, baby food, teething crackers, formula, and every cardboard box with a Sesame Street character on it that your local grocery store sells.  Your bathtub needs to be able to contain hundreds of plastic water toys.  And no one has more swag than your kid.  It's like the world is their personal gift shop.  You're going to need some storage space.

3.  Do you have the mindset?

While money is important and space is helpful, I think there is no bigger hurdle to be sure you can jump than "mindset."  You can lie to yourself about your earning potential and about the shabby chicness of your kid sleeping on a dog bed in your living room/dining room/kitchen, but now is the time for brutal honesty.  Don't mess with yourself on this one.  You've got to be able to handle your own truth.

I'm going to tell you some things that come with the territory of being a parent.  It's impossible for you to ask yourself now if you're ready for any of these, because no one is ever "ready" for them.  What you need to ask yourself is: "Am I dry-heaving, breaking out in hives, or doing my unattractive cry when I think about any of the following?"  If you are having these or similar bodily reactions to the upcoming list, congratulations, you're the lucky winner of an easy answer: now's not the time for you to have kids.

Being a parent means, in part and in no particular order:
  • Never eating an entire meal sitting down or empty-handed.
  • Having to plan for every possibility - wet diaper, dirty diaper, bored child, thirsty child, hungry child, child with a cold, child with dirty hands, child with a friend with a cold or dirty hands, car-jacking, apocalypse (the last two might be unique to me) -- every time you leave the house.
  • Sleeping soundly only from 9:00PM to 9:45PM.  On Tuesdays.
  • Lying a lot.  White lies, but still lies.  Because there are only so many ways to try to rationalize with a toddler about why "all the toys" can't come home with us.
  • Never going to see a movie again.
  • Answering questions about things you never knew could prompt a question.
  • Becoming a doctor.  You're the one who has to figure out why your 3-month-old is crying hysterically, how to soothe the gums of a teething baby, whether the tick had embedded or not, if that's a temper tantrum or paranormal activity, and where on the spectrum of actual injury an invisible gash to the knee falls. 
  • Getting comfortable with saying words like "boo boo," "potty," "listening ears," "cooperating time," and "don't make me say it again."
  • Becoming an actor.  Because the public cannot see or guess at the embarrassment/fury you're containing as your daughter strips naked, smacks you in the face, and yells "I'M NOT READY TO LEAVE!" when you tell her church is over.
  • Watching Aladdin every night for three months and realizing that if you were given one wish from a genie, it'd be for a weekend.  A real one
  • Never sitting still.  Unless it's because it's 9:00PM on a Tuesday and you're sleeping.
I'm hoping these are helpful, but I'm guessing your Siskel & Ebert review is somewhere in the neighborhood of one middle finger, all the way up. 

I'm sorry.  There's no easy answer. 

Except the trust your gut one.

Now, are you free to babysit? 

Submit your idea or suggestion for a "Dear Abby" post by emailing me at All the other, intricate details of this something-for-everyone are explained here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

More Soup for Them

Take a minute to imagine eating a single meal over the course of 24 hours.  Or leaving one meal with no concrete idea of where your next will come from.  Or hearing your child cry about being hungry, and responding that there's nothing to eat.  Or having the only time you're indoors be the time you get to sit down in a bare cafeteria with strangers for an hour.  Heck, imagine leaving a meal without the option for a snack if you get hungry before the next one.

Now imagine that you're not just imagining any of that.

Yesterday, I joined a team of people from my company to volunteer for a few hours at a local soup kitchen.  It was a really eye-opening and rewarding experience -- and not just because I was allowed to participate in a food preparation process to feed more than my immediate family.

The soup kitchen is located in Portland, Maine's biggest -- okay, only -- city.  Okay, big town.  Whatever.  It's the place in Maine where the most people live.

It was a muggy, hazy sunny day.  Our company van deposited us on a run-down sidewalk where trash was doing that warm-day festering thing in the gutters and all the buildings looked like they were sweating into their crumbling foundations.  The soup kitchen is a nondescript building that overlooks a Salvation Army thrift store and several run-down apartment buildings.  When we arrived at 10AM, there was a handful of men already in line for lunch, which would not start for another two hours.

A quarter of a mile away, people were grocery shopping at Portland's Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market.

We were greeted in the kitchen by a group of about a dozen workers.  The group included a small number of full-time kitchen staff, and the rest were volunteers.  A few women who come in regularly to help, and a couple high school students who were doing their community service work.  My colleagues and I were given aprons, told to wash up, and dispersed among various tasks. 

As you can probably imagine, the kitchen was humming with activity.  The size of the kitchen itself is about the size of some people's home kitchens.  Three walls were lined with stainless steel sink basins.  The fourth looked out onto the cafeteria and stationed the buffet from which volunteers could serve food to the patrons.  The center of the kitchen housed two double-ovens and a long stove top and grill.  There was a long stainless steel counter steps away from those cookeries. 

The radio was on, the fans were losing their battle against the humidity, and everyone was cheerful.

I was put on broccoli duty.  I sliced three boxes of broccoli.  The heads got tossed into a bowl with the stalks, which I had to trim to remove the tough outside.  All of those parts were going to be made into a soup for some yet-to-be planned meal.  Anything I discarded was put into a large pot for delivery to a local pig farmer.  When I finished with that, I made iced tea and limeade and set those out in the cafeteria. 

While I was busy with those tasks, other people were cutting hot dogs, grilling cheese sandwiches, making salads, slicing desserts, and preparing bag lunches for people who didn't want to come in and sit down for a meal. 

Just before the doors were to open for lunch, the kitchen manager offered to take me on a tour of the pantry.  She showed me their walk-in freezers, their rows of condiments and canned goods, and the pallets they stack boxed items on.  She also gave me a bird's-eye view of the kitchen's operations.  All the food they use is "rescued" or donated.  While I was overwhelmed by the amount of 32 oz cans and loaves of bread and bottles of ketchup, she told me their supplies were alarmingly low, and confessed she was not sure how they were going to survive the summer.  Perhaps it's because they are serving 48% more meals this year as compared to last; that soup kitchen alone serves almost 1,000 meals a day, and about 32,000 meals a month -- just staggering numbers.

The soup kitchen is open for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Their meals accommodate vegetarians and gluten-free eaters, and everything is made with nutrition in mind.  They provide dog and cat food because they had noticed patrons (or "clients," as the kitchen workers call them) would give their own food to their pets instead of eating it themselves.  Every Thursday, they also host a grocery day, where clients are handed a box-top to fill with food laid out on tables set up like aisles in a grocery store.  They do food tastings for things like brie cheese, which many clients have never before tasted.

While the soup kitchen serves a huge variety of food, yesterday the main course was actually soup.  There were three options, plus the offering of a grilled cheese, two different salads, and two different desserts.  I was staffed as a server behind the vegetarian chili.

It was fascinating to see the people who came for lunch, and to see their numbers.  The doors opened at noon and there was an immediate surge of people.  Some were old enough to need a walker, others looked like they were in high school.  There were roughly equal amounts men and women.  There was one young couple with their toddler, and the numerous high chairs and booster seats indicated that families were regularly accommodated.  Some men spoke only Spanish, one spoke only French.  Some had obvious physical handicaps, one looked like an Olympic athlete.  Some dressed in rags, others looked like they had just stepped off a cruise ship.  Some were clearly intoxicated, others looked like they had never touched a beer.  Some refused to make eye contact, others were profusely appreciative.  That line of people blew the doors off every assumption or stereotype you'd associate with people who frequent a soup kitchen/food pantry.

That line also did not dwindle until just before 1PM, when the doors closed.  Nearly 60 minutes of a steady stream of people looking for something to eat.

When the windows to the buffet closed, we started cleaning up the kitchen and the cafeteria.  The staff gently nudged the patrons to finish up and head out.  No one complained.  Everyone cooperated.  One man stopped me on his way out and said he'd see me at "suppah."

The most poignant moment of the day for me was during this exodus.  A young man -- probably 18 -- wearing a long winter coat despite the warm temperatures, finished the meal he'd eaten in silence and headed out the door.  He dragged behind him a flimsy rolling suitcase the size of two pizza boxes stacked end to end.  I realized that I was probably looking at everything this person had in the world, and it weighed less than my 8-month-old son.

Needless to say, I was profoundly touched by this experience.  It reminded me that there is no one face of homelessness or food-neediness. It's not just chemically-addicted panhandlers. It's immigrants trying to make their way.  It's day laborers who eat breakfast and then perform manual labor until the sun sets.  It's people with a job whose salary only covers the rent.   It's children.   And it's more.  Yesterday also taught me how desperately these places, which operate on a shoe-string budget and depend so much on the charity of others, need help from those who can give it.

I came back to the office and fired off an email to HR to see about coordinating food drives here at the office, and I am trying to figure out a system at home for us to make regular food donations.  I'm no hero.  It's so easy to buy an extra box of pasta or set out a carton for other people to put food in.  I don't even want to think about how hard it is to wonder if your kids are going to have lunch tomorrow.

I urge you to consider donating to your local food pantries as well.  Here's a link to a food pantry directory - just enter your state or zip code and you can find one near you.  According to the kitchen manager I spoke with, the items they go through most quickly are coffee, condiments (especially ketchup) and pasta.  The next time you're at the grocery store, why don't you pick up an extra can or bottle or box?  Someone will appreciate it.  A lot.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Night A Television Show Cheated on Me

Last night turned out to be a busy one for me.  Mostly because I had to spend so much time on the phone to try to correct a grievous injustice.  Given the supreme importance of those phone calls, I've decided to transcribe them here for you, in their entirety.

As you read through these transcripts, you are going to be wondering how I have certain phone numbers.  Don't worry about it.  Let's just say I know people.  People whose relationship status on Facebook is "stalker."

9:01pm EST

In the background, sounds of Jessica Sanchez texting and Phillip Phillips doubled over in pain, grunting "But Dave Matthews doesn't have kidney issues!"

RYAN SEACREST: Seacrest is in the house and on the phone! 

Abby: Hi Ryan.  It's Abby.  How could you do this to me?  Seriously.  How?

SEACREST:  Julianne?  I thought we used protection!?!

Abby: I said ABBY, Ryan!  A-B-B-Y!  That sounds nothing like Julianne. 

SEACREST: Oh, sorry Adam.  What can I help you with?  Are you a Kardashian who wants a spin-off?

Abby:  No, Ryan.  I don't want a spin-off.  I want to know what genius at Fox greenlighted the idea to schedule the final Idol performances for a Tuesday night.  Everyone knows that performance night is WEDNESDAY night, Ryan.  There's no confusing a Tuesday with a Wednesday.  Tuesday is the day you do two of everything, and Wednesday is the day you look at and wonder who's the jerk that thought a "d" can and should be silent.  Come to think of it, I bet that jerk was someone at Fox.

SEACREST:  Be cool, my baby.  We used a fancy algorithm and cross-populated test audiences to determine that we needed to jazz up this finale.  What better way to jazz it up than to pull the ultimate switch-a-roo?  Get everyone all comfortable with a mid-week treat and then WAH-BAM.  Get all up in their calendar with a one-hour extravaganza ONE. DAY. EARLY.  Do you see the brilliance?

Abby:  Again, I'm coming at you with a respectful no here, Ryan.  I don't see the brilliance.  In the Groundhog's Day that is my life, the only variety I get revolves around television programming.  Before you judge me, let me assure you that fact is not depressing, it's enlightened.  Let me also remind you that the girl you thought you'd impregnated still can't rent a car on her own.  Point is, Wednesday night is Idol performance night in my house and households across the country.  Parents everywhere race their children to bed by 8PM so that they can tune in, and tweens nationwide amass their storage shed of cell phones so that they can register the one vote that counts anymore in this place we call the United States of America.  And Fox dares to disrespect that devotional planning by springing a change-up at the 11th hour?  How do you think Kate would feel if Will did a hard right just before reaching the end of the aisle and pushed Harry into the chaste hand-holding position before the Queen Mother and the dude with the decorated dunce cap?  The answer is she wouldn't be as heart-broken as I was last night, Ryan.


SEACREST:  Huh?  I'm Googling "impregnated."  Can you hang on a second?  Also, I have Selena Gomez on the other line.

Abby:  You're useless to me, Seacrest.  I'm moving up the chain.

9:11pm EST

RANDY JACKSON:  Yo yo yo yo yo yo DAWG!  Yo yo yo yoooooooooooo?  Dawg!  Dawg? Yo!  Yo! Yo!  Yo?  Dawg!  Dawg dawg yo dawg.

Abby:  Ummmm...Mr. Jackson?  I'm calling for some answers about the scheduling change for the live performance show?  I've been a devoted audience member for months now and I feel very cheated on.  I feel like I just found out my husband had an affair.  Only it wasn't my husband.  It was you.  You cheated on me for a Tuesday night.  That sounds like something only TGIFriday's should be able to pull off with Ruby of Ruby Tuesday's.  How could you?

RANDY:  We are in it to win it, yo Dawg!  We gotta have it!  Yo!  Dawg?

Abby:  Do you speak English?

RANDY: I am wearing a pin!

Abby:  Okay.  You speak English.  But you don't appear capable of rational conversation.  I will let you go, ummm...look at your pin. 

RANDY:  Pins are pinny!

Abby:  I am hanging up now, Randy. 

9:13pm EST

JENNIFER LOPEZ:  I wanna dance, and love, and dance...again.  I wanna dance, and love, and dance...again!

Abby: You answer your phone singing your new single?

JLO: I love working subtle promotional tricks into everything I do.  It gives me goosies to think about all the multi-tasking I'm able to get done.

Abby:  I am sorry to bother you, but I just was wondering why in the world you'd put a dagger through my heart and sign off on switching the performance night from Wednesday to Tuesday?

JLO:  Casper!  Here Casper!  Come on Casper!  That's a good boy.  Casper!  Now sit, Casper.  Mommy's got a treat.  Sit.  Siiiittttt.  Good boy Casper!

Abby:  You named your dog after your boyfriend?

JLO:  You so silly!  I don't have a dog!  I'm talking TO my boyfriend.  Aren't I, Casper?  Yes, I am!  Yes, I am!  Who's the best Casper in the world?  That's right, you are!  You're my little Casper wasper!

Abby:  Did you hear my question?  Not the one about your boyfriend dog.  The one before that.

JLO:  Can Casper roll over tonight?  Roll over, Casper!  Come on!  Show mommy how you can roll over!  Good....good....good!  Good roll Casper!  Casper gets a treat!


JLO:  I'm sorry -- what was that you were saying?  How can I help you?

Abby:  I knew that'd get your attention.  Tell me, JLO -- why the switch from Wednesday to Tuesday?  Why?

JLO:  You don't want to marry me?  Casper!  You get back here right now!  You know you can't go in that room!

Abby:  You're clearly busy.  I'll let you go.  Good luck with your training -- I mean, have fun on date night.  By the way - you looked awesome tonight.  I want dewy skin like....

JLO: CASPER!  What do I see behind that curtain???

9:20pm EST:

STEVEN TYLER:  Rarrrrrooowwwweeeeeeayyyayayyyayyyyyyyyy!

Abby:  Mr. Tyler.  This is a real honor.  I have so many things I want to ask you about.  Those lips.  That hair.  Those accessories.  But before we get to how you humanized Heath Ledger's look as the Joker, I was just wondering if I could trouble you with a question.  Why the switch from Wednesday night performances to a Tuesday night finale performance?

TYLER:  What in the hell is a TUESday?

Abby:  What?  Huh?  Wh---?  HUH?!?

TYLER:  It's a beautiful thing.  You nailed it.

Abby:  Okay....I gotta go.  My armpit's on fire.  So sorry.  Call back later....

9:21pm EST

NIGEL LYTHGOE:  Cheerio tip top of the evenin' to you!

Abby:  Mr. Lythgoe!  Finally!  I've been trying all night to get a simple answer and I think you're the only man can who can help me.

LYTHGOE:  Blimey!  Sounds like you're in quite a pickle.  How can I help you?

Abby: Please, tell me: as the producer of Idol, why in the world would you pull a fast one on your dwindling audience?  You now know that you can't take your ratings on faith.  You've got to find new ways to reach new people, sure.  But what about the people you already have in the palm of your hand?  Shouldn't you treat them with a little respect?  And isn't a baseline of respect giving them something they can depend on?  Like Wednesdays being performance night?  I'm no titan of industry, but I think that's the least you can do, not to mention the smartest thing you can do.  How many millions of people, like me, didn't check their Twitter feed until it was too late?  Until history had already been made?  Until Nielsen had already tallied your ratings?  I don't mean to overstep my bounds, but come ON, Nigel!

LYTHGOE:  Don't get your knickers all in a twist!  Watch the results show tomorrow.  Google the performances you missed tonight and enjoy them over your slow connection speed and on a tiny screen.  I mean, seriously, darling.  This is no tempest in a teapot.

Abby:  How can you be so cavalier about all this?  It's like you don't even care.  Like you WANT the show's ratings to keep declining.

Is that...?

Wait, did I just hear....?

Nigel!  I would recognize the sounds of that black t-shirt anywhere!  You're with Simon!!!

SIMON COWELL:  Mwahhhhaaahaaahhaaaa!!!  If I can't get viewers with over-worked production numbers and beaten-down has-beens the likes of Britney, then I will just kill the competition from the inside out.  My work here is DONE.  Back to the French Riviera for me!

Paula?  Get your purse!

And get mine too, while you're at it!

This is all true, people.  And very sad.  Thank you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Flapping in The Breeze

Twitter produces some odd phenomena.  Behind a cloak of pseudo-anonymity, people wax poetic on the glories of pizza, share pictures of their shoes, set dinner dates, and blast their followers with opinions on everything from #DWTS to the #TrayvonMartinShootingMothers tweet to try to keep up with their kids, politicians tweet to try to pass legislation, and Ashton Kutcher tweets to prove he really is just an idiot.

Perhaps the craziest Twitter phenomenon is how completely it sucks users in to its 140-character orbit.  Who needs cable news when I can get Luke Russert to tell me who's winning an NHL game and which Lockerbie bomber just died?  Why bother to make friends when I can get daily encouragement from an avatar?  What's the point of leaving the house if I can look at pictures of celebrities traveling the globe from the comfort of my unmade bed?  We're quickly becoming a culture of human-bots who trade handicrafts for carpel tunnel and personal interaction for digitized stimulation.  We want the immediate gratification of a real-time play-by-play of everything, but through the safe and distanced medium of our smart phone.  We want it now, but we want it impersonal.

With an iPhone as the ultimate shield, many members of Twitterdom trend towards a bravado and extremism they would never dare to assume in, of all things, a face-to-face interaction.  In good times, that can result in laugh-out-loud humor that gets you through otherwise boring daily chores, like waiting in line for a new license at the DMV or getting ready to go to confession.

In bad times, it puts the "bull" in cyber-bullying and both periods in b.s.

My personal solar system in the Twitter universe saw a solar flare of the latter variety beginning on Sunday night.  I never thought social media could make me flabbergasted, but this Twitter spectacle did.  I'd go as far as to say that I was agog.  That's right -- I said it.  AGOG.

I follow a handful of very funny women who happen to be united in their undisguised contempt for Chris Brown.  He's the now-23-year-old R&B singer who infamously beat up his then-girlfriend Rihanna in February 2009.  A few months later, he accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to community service, five years of probation, and domestic violence counseling.  A few months after that, he did a Larry King interview where he claimed not to remember the incident, said he was "shocked" it happened, and blamed the media for driving a wedge between him and his former girlfriend.  Then in March 2011, Robin Roberts of Good Morning America tested his memory loss and asked about the incident and the resulting restraining order that requires Brown to stay 50 yards away from Rihanna.  (Sidenote: I wonder who brought the tape measure when they collaborated on the remix of Rihanna's ditty "Birthday Cake," which features Brown rapping about wanting to “f***” her and “give it to her in the worst way.”  I guess it's those kinds of sweet nothings that teach a girl how to forgive and forget.)  Anyway, CB didn't much appreciate Ms. Roberts' journalistic bent, so he threw some chairs, ripped off his shirt, and I think strangled a passing robin.

While Brown's career faltered a bit because of these...ummm...missteps?, he bounced back like a fist recoiling from a jaw bone and released a new album, performed at the Grammy's, and even won a Grammy.  At which point he proclaimed, like a true gentleman, that all the "haters" could "HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now!  That’s the ultimate [BLEEP] OFF!”  (Of course, he made that proclamation via Twitter.)

Needless to say, Senor Brown has given people plenty to hate.  He beats up those he claims to love, and then tarnishes his apologies with behavior that ranges from immature to dangerous and demeaning.  He pretends to take responsibility and then acts completely irresponsibly.  He gets held largely unaccountable for his actions and then rubs his untouchability in the face of everyone who cares to pay attention.

Despite these detractions, Brown has managed to amass a legion of die-hard fans who will brook no dissent.  They're so loyal in their devotion and so strident in their opinions that if the fans -- known as "Team Breezy" -- had been told to look elsewhere for someone to follow, their most suitable options would probably have been Osama pre-Navy Seals or Sarah Palin.  If brown is not your favorite color, get ready for your Team Breezy flour bomb.  If you don't name your first child Chris, regardless of gender, your poisoned pacifiers are in the mail, care of Team Breezy.  Should you ever cower when Brown himself goes to pull out a chair, you'll be slimed like a presenter at Nickelodeon's Kid's Choice Awards.

And God forbid you ever criticize the "musical talents" of the guy who croons "Big Booty Judy" and "Ain't Thinkin' 'Bout You."  That's what Chrissy Teigen (@chrissyteigen) and Kelly Oxford (@kellyoxford) did on Sunday night after Chris Brown performed at the Billboard Music Awards.  Like everyone else in the live and at-home audience, these two women remarked on the fact that Brown was clearly lip singing.  Teigen benignly tweeted "why sing when you can dance." Oxford took it a step further and wrote "Hey Chris Brown, those BMX bikes didn't distract me enough not to notice you get paid to sing and can't do it."

Thus was unleashed a rain of fire and brimstone the likes of which only Sodom and Gomorrah can relate to.

Team Breezy plowed a war path up and down these women's Twitter feeds, lobbing insults normally reserved for the bathroom stall doors of a particularly skeevy Greyhound bus station.  Four letter words that I can't type here and that make me blush and grimace at the same time.  Actually leveling death threats for daring to state what appears to be an agreed-upon fact.  Vitriol so violent that the International Business Times devoted an article to it. 

Each of these attack tweets (I like to cal them "twacks") was misspelled and associated with Twitter handles like "Luvah" or "ElementarySchoolWasEnough" or "SexTouristDestination."  So if there's anything redeeming about this particular phenomenon, it's that Chris Brown is only being further defined by the company he keeps.  And it's not the type of company that's greeted cheerfully anywhere other than prison.

Sadly, though, that same company is decidedly female.  Scores and scores of young girls jumping to the defense of a man whose platform is anti-girl.  Demanding of Teigen what Brown ever did to her, when the very same question should be asked of them -- what has he ever done to or for you to inspire this blind loyalty and terrifying bully mentality?  Are you really so lacking in friendships and community that you find identity and comfort in waging a publicity war with throngs of people you don't know on behalf of a man who'd smack you for back-talk?

Girls, girls, girls.  Put down your phone.  Step away from your computer.  Wash your mouth out with soap.  Do your homework.  Find someone to hug.  Because you're spending way too much time chasing down the wrong enemy.  Just because you're doing it over an Internet connection doesn't make it any less tawdry or unforgivable.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Where Have All The Weekends Gone?

Even back when I was working at a law firm, I looked forward to the weekends.  I say "even" because on most of those weekends, I was going to be doing at least a few hours of work.  And often, that work would have to be done in the office.

Sometimes, a Saturday or Sunday really wasn't all that different from a Tuesday or Wednesday in terms of the hours I was billing. 

Despite that depressing statistic, there was still something qualitatively different about a weekend.  Even being in the office felt different.  The halls were quieter, the phone didn't ring, the volume on Pandora was turned up louder, and my attire was non-business.  That's right.  On Saturdays, I wore pajamas or a tu-tued leotard to the office.  So that was awesome.

Then when I left the office, I could go meet my husband for dinner or a movie or the circus I'd been practicing for.  I could return to our small apartment that took 5 minutes and one swiffer cloth to clean.  I could do a single load of laundry, pick up pressed shirts at the dry-cleaners, and spend 20 minutes grocery shopping at the glorified convenience store half a block from our building.

We could sleep in a bit on weekend mornings, have a muffin and a coffee in Central Park, and go for a run whenever the mood struck.

As much of a bear New York City was to live in, there were those little things that, in retrospect, I can now appreciate.  Because now?   Oh...Now, you slippery little devil.  Now, you've taught me about the innocence of my lost youth.  Those halcyon days when the only person I had to plan for was myself.  That Gilded Age when waking up at 6AM was something to be bragged about or reported to a medical professional.

The weekends of today, with two children in the mix, are a much different story.  All the mothers reading this post are nodding their heads and wiping the Cheerios off their yoga pants (which have never been used for actual yoga).  Can I get an Amen, sister?

For those of you who don't automatically understand the Before-and-After I'm putting in front of you, allow me to dazzle you with a simile.  (I'm pretty sure it's a simile because I'm going to use the word "like" in the next sentence, which I think disqualifies it as a metaphor.  If you're trying to stifle a correction in your throat or at your fingertips, chill.  It doesn't really matter.)  A weekend of today is like being shot out of a sling-shot.  When the first child cries out, in the wee hours of a soft Saturday morning, you're the rubber ball being launched into the next 14 hours of your day, landing only when the last child's head hits the pillow.

I can honestly say that I'm more exhausted when I arrive at work on a Monday morning than I was when I left it Friday afternoon.  The preceding 60 or so hours are nothing but a blur of meals and chores and inane conversations and bottles and activities and the dreaded grocery shopping extravaganza.  I wish I was talented enough to write a symphony displaying the cacophony of sounds that makes up any given weekend.  I'm not even close, but I know it would include the sound plates make when they're being unloaded from the dishwasher, the clack of a washing machine door, the whining of one child, the fussing of another, the car door opening and closing, the refrigerator door opening and closing, shoes falling off feet, sand spilling, the creak of a swing, the wave of a rattle, a crayon on paper, the whir of a blender, the ping of an oven, the water spray of a shower, and the unfolding of a diaper. 

Oh, and "Mami?  Mami?  Mami?" being repeated ad infinitum in the background.  My daughter begins everything that comes out of her mouth with a "Mami?" or a Mami!" or a "Mami."  By the end of the day, I literally tell her she is no longer allowed to say That Word.

The fact that she has a running play-by-play of the day makes any sort of self-censorship quite a challenge.  I get reports on where the ants are, how many times she's dribbled a ball, when she needs to go to the bathroom, who was funny at school two weeks ago, and why she needs a snack RIGHT NOW.  I am immediately apprised of when a crow lands on the lawn, what toy her brother is playing with, how many bites she's eaten of an apple, who was funny at school yesterday, and where she plans on having a play-date tomorrow.  Yesterday she had so many things to tell me at once that this sentence came out of her mouth:

"Yesterday Hadley wouldn't swing with me and tomorrow I am going to swimming lessons can Molly come play I don't want strawberries because Mateo is rolling over."

There's no good response to that kind of update.  Our conversations are entirely one-sided, with her doing all the talking and me doing all the wondering when I stopped understanding either the English or Spanish language. 

It's these kind of mental gymnastics and the physical feats of keeping up with every move and request and near-catastrophe two small people can make and voice and cause that have me gasping for air by the time Sunday night rolls around.

And this past weekend I did the unspeakable.  I went out both Friday and Saturday night after the kids were ready for bed.  I stayed up until 11PM both nights like some kind of God damned teenager. 

Don't get me wrong.  I know this is what I signed up for, and this is the life of mothers everywhere.  I also know that I love my children dearly, and I wouldn't go back in time for all the ego in Kobe.

But sometime, maybe just for 5 minutes on a Saturday, I would like to sit down with an empty brain in a quiet room and close my eyes.

I think the surrounding I just described is a psych ward. 

Does anyone know if they have hourly rates?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dear Abby: The Mommy Wars

Today I will be kicking off my "Dear Abby" series, where I do a post on a topic that a reader has suggested to me.  I've decided that I will do these posts every Friday.  Which means fathers everywhere will soon be confused when everyone starts saying Thank God It's DAD every Friday.  You can explain to them that DAD is Dear Abby Day.  I'll be too busy blogging.

Today's topic is the magazine cover heard 'round the world.  It's this rectangular powder keg, in all its glossy glory:

I picked up Time's May 21, 2012 edition the other day.  The last time I read a Time magazine was the time I forgot to bring my book to the gym in 1999.  Upon greeting my long not-lost non-friend, I closed my right eye so I could stop looking at Jamie Lynne Grumet's boob and was immediately underwhelmed.  Either Time is really taking a bullet for the eco-conservative Green Team or they've hit the bottom of the material well, because the issue was shorter than the alphabet books my daughter makes at pre-school.

I'm guessing the slight heft of the magazine is more owing to the latter.  In fact, if I were to put on my Michael Jordan I'll-Bet-On-Anything hat, I'd wager that the editors at Time are afraid that's exactly what they're running out of: time.  I bet they're desperate for readership and trying to cut costs so that Father Time doesn't tell Time that its time is up.

After I read the mommy article, I became convinced I was right.  And I was mad I lost my Michael Jordan speed dial button because I could have just made myself some millions.

The desperation over at Time was confirmed because the content of the article only tangentially related to the explosive image and headline on the cover of the magazine.  Clearly the boob-sucking pre-schooler and the gauntlet-throwing "Mom Enough" challenge were simply a clever ploy to get all of us riled up and ready to spend $5 on 6 pieces of paper.  If they'd accurately depicted the "related" story in a pictorial, it would be a photo of a grandfather dressed in scrubs lecturing a frazzled mother while trying to hide his giggling from her.  And the caption would read "Science -- Who Needs It?"

Needless to say, I have a lot of reactions to the story, but I'm going to try to boil them down to three. 

Reaction 1:  The actual subject of the cover story, Dr. William Sears, is a jerk.

The focus of Time's reporting is not Pilates teachers with breasts just waiting to be suckled.  Instead, it's Dr. William Sears, who published the first edition of The Baby Book in 1992.  In that brick of a book (it's 767 pages long!), Dr. Sears advocates for "attachment parenting."  Boiled down, attachment parenting dictates that "the more time babies spend in their mothers' arms, the better the chances they will turn out to be well-adjusted children."  The basic tenets of such a doctrine are that:

  • Mothers should not let their children fuss.  At all.  Every cry should be tended to.
  • Mothers should not put their babies down.  Ever.  If mommy needs to use her hands for something other than toting Junior, Dr. Sears sells a sling that mommy can rig to her torso and deposit Junior into.
  • Babies should "co-sleep" (ie. share a bed with) their parents.
  • And yes, as Time walloped us over the head with, mommy should breastfeed Junior for as long as possible.  Biologically possible.  Not socially-acceptable possible.
As I will discuss more below, I have no real issue with attachment parenting in and of itself.  It is certainly not for me, but if some mothers feel like that's how this whole parenting mystery unfolds itself for them, fine.  And wow.

But I have a real issue with Dr. Sears.  He, together with his wife, cobbled together the attachment parenting movement relying on their personal histories, their Catholic faith, and their random reading choices.  Both Dr. and Mrs. Sears felt abandoned by one or both of their parents in their own childhoods.  Both are deeply religious.  And both got the idea for their life's work from a book called The Continuum Concept.

This book was written by Jean Liedloff, a college-dropout turned part-time model who decided to go dig for diamonds in Venezuela in about the 1960s.  (I'm serious.  On all counts.)  She noticed that the indigenous people in the South American jungle carried their children with them all the time, and that those children seemed to "cry less" than American babies.  Based on her uneducated observations, she wrote The Continuum Concept and told mothers everywhere they needed to be more "connected" to their children.  She went on to decide never to have children of her own.  The Searses went on to decide to make her their prophet.

They've so bought into the attachment parenting thing that Mrs. Sears actually says things like "[leaving a baby] to cry in her crib damage[s] her brain."  Dr. Sears is quick to chime in with a comment that putting a baby in a crib is putting a baby "behind bars."  The only way to save your baby from dyslexia or jail, they conclude, is for mommy to a stop everything except lactation.

The couple peddles this lifestyle despite the fact that there is no scientific support for their statements and mountains  of it to contradict them.  They hold essentially firm despite the decidedly sexist undertones of their message, which they try to soften with suggestions that fathers "do the dishes" or book mommy a massage.  Their response to doubters is simply to say that their method is the method God likes, and that their preaching is based on the practices that have worked for them.  Then they condemn any mother who would dare put her baby on a schedule or on a bottle, even though that's the method Dr. Spock likes, and those are the practices that have worked for millions.

My bottom line: if your idea of childbirth is just moving a baby from the womb to other side of your epidermis, enjoy your years as a kangaroo.  I just hope you have a reason better than Dr. Sears' say-so to do it.  To my mind, his game is an exploitative racket.

Reaction 2:  The whole "Mommy Wars" firestorm needs to be extinguished.

Time magazine is just as exploitative.  After the whole Ann Romney "don't tell me I don't 'work' just because I never 'worked' outside the home" debacle, the world has fallen down the Mommy Wars rabbit hole.  "Working" moms versus stay-at-home moms.  Attachment parenting versus helicopter parenting versus I just want my kid to be a good person and not too clingy and eat the occasional vegetable parenting.  Time magazine asking if you're mom "enough."  As if mothering is some beach the U.S. Marines are trying to storm.

Enough, already.  In the history of time, no perfect parent -- much less mother -- has ever been identified.  Probably because every parent started off as the kid their parents scarred or neglected or screwed up in some way.  Imperfect children grow up to be imperfect parents, and the whole wide world is made up of imperfect people. 

Some kids grow up to be better people than other kids grow up to be, sure.  But I think it'd be tough to argue, with a straight face, that Johnny is so much more well-adjusted than Albert because Johnny piggy-backed his mother until he outweighed her.  There's a lot that goes into making us who we are.  Of course a huge building block is how we're raised during our formative years.  I can say, though, that a lot of who I am is the result of things I had to go off and do on my own during, for example, the big bad years of kindergarten.  My mother could have never let me shed a single tear under her watchful eye, but I probably would have still suffered from confidence issues after a crush wasn't reciprocated or some other fact of life -- that my mother had no control over -- hit me upside the head.

In other words, an extra month of breast-feeding does not, to my mind, a Mother Theresa or Warren Buffett or Gisele Bundchen (I'm using her as a self-confidence standard-bearer) make.  Not in and of itself.

What WILL make a difference, way more often than not, is a semi-sane, semi-grounded mother.  And whatever it takes for mommy to find the sweet spot to her parenting is what mommy should do.  As long as, of course, it's not the sweet taste of coke on her teeth after she snorts a line or some similarly illegal and universally frowned upon parenting technique.

Mommy pitting herself against mommy is just unhelpful.  Spend your time taking care of your kids and taking care of yourself, in the way and to the degree that resonates with you.  Don't worry what the mommy next door is doing if it's just to criticize it.  Find a different way to reassure yourself that what you're doing is right for you and yours.  Cutting your fellow mommy down to size to make yourself feel righteous is very middle school of you.  That's a sure-fire way to teach an imperfect attitude and approach to life to those kids hanging from your neck.

And every media outlet or other third-party who wants to do the pitting just to generate sound bites is beyond unhelpful -- it's cheap.

Reaction 3:  This is just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Despite all of the above, there's no way to look at that cover and not feel like it's raining softballs.  In that vein, let's end this on a light note. 

I think you can take your cues from your kid on when is the right time for you two to stop with the breast-feeding routine.  If your kid can verbalize any of the following, I'd say you're getting more than just cues that the end is 'nigh.  You're receiving spam from Mother Nature delivered via a megaphone:

  • "Mom, I need to wash down the spaghetti o's.  Has your right breast recovered from this morning?"
  • "Hey guys, I need to take a break from tag.  I'm parched.  Mom, put down your book and pull up your t-shirt!"
  • "Move over, Sam!  You're hogging all the boobs!"
  • "Today Bobby was telling me about these things called juice boxes.  What in the world are those?"
  • "Mom!  I passed the test!  I got my driver's license!  Can we celebrate with both sides?!?"

Submit your idea or suggestion for a "Dear Abby" post by emailing me at  All the other, intricate details of this something-for-everyone are explained here

Thursday, May 17, 2012

TwiHarder, Kristen

One of my least favorite types of celebrities is the type that acts like she is doing the rest of us a favor.  Like we owe her a thank-you note or an Edible Arrangement for all the trouble she went to making $5 million to run from Armageddon or suffer from a bout of amnesia or walk around half-naked giving googly eyes to Channing Tatum.  It's the biggest pile of malarkey, and it's always a case of the punishment not fitting the crime, as it were.

What the were am I talking about?  Well, according to my excel spreadsheet, the starlets that act the most down-trodden by their starletness are the ones who are over-hyped and under-talented.  The ones who'd be foaming the skim milk for my decaf latte were it not for some stroke of incredible luck or fortunate breeding.  The ones who should be spamming the shit out of a Paperless Post thank-you to every tween on the globe for their under-developed taste and access to their parents' cash.

Sitting at the top of this Pantheon of Pooh is one Kristen Stewart.  This girl has irked me from the moment I first saw her pout her lips and shrug her shoulders.  The only performance of hers I ever enjoyed was when she was Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room, and that's probably only because she spent the entire movie locked in a room in some kind of diabetic trance. 

Somehow, her unexceptional ability to look panicked in a room led to more roles.  For example, she took a star turn in In The Land of Women, where she just looked panicked about whether she'd get Adam Brody's character to kiss her.  The she somehow landed the coveted role of Bella Swan in the Twilight movies.  Four movies in which she's just looked panicked in a truck or in the woods or in a church.  Somewhere along the way, she found the time to film The Runaways, where she looked panicked about whether Dakota Fanning's Cherie Currie was going to outshine her own Joan Jett.  And who could forget Welcome to the Riley's, where she looked panicked about James Galdofini's character trying to lure her away from her life as a young stripper.

Now she's out promoting a blockbuster remake of Snow White, where...imagine this...she's going to be running around more woods looking panicked because maniacal wolves are chasing her and Charlize Theron wants her head.

Conclusion: K-Swiss has amassed world-wide fame and a small fortune for her one-note acting thanks to her lucky break as the Juliet to Robert Pattinson's Romeo, just with more fangs.  As you may have surmised, any "range" she shows is book-ended by mild panic and extreme panic.  She just amps up the volume of her panic by the strength of her scowl, the degree of osteoporosis she allows in her back, and the amount of distance she puts between her upper and lower lips.

You'd think, then, that K-Stew would be all smiles off the set.  All chipper and gracious and lovely and super-psyched that she'd managed to pull one over on Meritocracy.  All "I'm just as amazed at all this as you are!"

Not so much.

In interview after interview, Kristy acts like she's just woken up on the wrong side of a Goodwill donation bin after a night of mosh-pitting and chain-smoking.  She acts like she can't believe someone is expecting her to, like, say actual words in response to other words about whatever piece of crap entertainment she's just been paid boatloads of money to look aloof in.  Her enormous apathy about everything translates directly to her presentation.  I have never once looked at this girl and thought "wow, she looks nice."  Heck, I've never once looked at her and thought, "wow, she looks like she definitely showered today."

I mean, look at her at this year's Met Gala:

And here she is at this year's Coachella:

Not much of a difference between the two looks, if you ask me.  Except in the grassy-knoll one, she's smiling for the first time since 2003, and that's only because her neighbor just told her a bird decorated the top of her hat.  Otherwise, same messy hair, same glue-gunned attire, same dirty feet.

When she does deign to exercise her vocal chords, it's normally to take a thinly veiled pot-shot at the industry that has allowed her mini-mogul status.  Something about how the hysteria over the Twilight series has ruined her life, or how the film didn't turn out how she'd envisioned it when she doodled on the script.  Or -- and this is my personal favorite -- how she soon wants out of acting because she doesn't want to be a "professional liar" for the rest of her life.

Ummmm....Kissy?  I know you only completed 7th grade and did the rest of your schooling via "correspondence," but I expected more of even you.  We understand that when we go sit down in that big dark room, after the popcorn and soda finish dancing and we've all silenced our ringtones, that what comes next is a "movie."  We get that you're just delivering lines someone else wrote for you as they concocted this thing called a story.  In fact, the very reason we're in this box staring up at a football field of a screen is so that we can look at things that as 3-year-olds we liked to call "make pretend."  Don't worry -- no one actually thinks Taylor Lautner can turn into a werewolf or that Robert Pattinson can jump that high or that you have the vocabulary range to talk for two hours.

That being said, I am concerned that someone has been sucking your blood.  Because you're deathly pale and oxygen doesn't appear to be reaching your brain and your energy level is registering at "scary low."

Also?  Anytime you want to stop with this acting business you keep telling us you're enslaved to, by all means, walk away.  You've got the cash.  You apparently don't have the drive.  So go find some philosophy class or pottery studio to look disappointed in.  We'll be fine.

To the extent you decide to stick around, do us a solid and add "having a good time" to your repertoire of forced emotions.  Just twi, Kristen.  Twi for us.  Then twi harder.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One Heck of A Q&A

One of the best days of the month at my house is the day I get paid.  A close second is the day my Vanity Fair magazine arrives.

I love that little bundle of glossy pages.  Their articles are always in-depth, just a bit out of left field, and highly entertaining.  It's the best money you can spend on a magazine, in my mind, because a single issue can last you a full week.  Compare that with, say, an US Weekly, which you can read cover-to-cover over a bowl of cereal.  If I'm going to allot my subscription allowance, I don't need Ben Bernanke helping me figure out that the Vanity Fair option is a sounder economic decision.

Despite the fact that I love the magazine for its meaty reporting, a highlight for me is actually the shortest piece in the magazine: the Proust Questionnaire that always occupies the last page.

This is a questionnaire that Vanity Fair puts in front of a celebrity or other luminary every month and lets them give their answer to the 20 (or so) questions in 20 (or so) words or less.  It was made famous by some French dude in the late 19th/early 20th century named Marcel Proust.  Proust didn't come up with the questions; he copped them from a girlfriend's journal and then answered them in a journal of his own.  His answers were so apparently awesome that the questions themselves became a touchstone for personality insights.  Pretty amazing to have such a stellar answer that the prompting question itself becomes renowned for generations.  I bet Willie Shakespeare is exhausted from all the somersaults he's turned by now in frustration for not giving Hamlet an answer to the "to be or not to be" riddle.

Anyway, after Proust copped the questions, it's been an extensive string of copping ever since.  A French television host copped them for his guests.  Then James Lipton of Inside the Actor's Studio copped them for his celebrity-worship sessions.  And yes, now we're coming full circle -- Vanity Fair copped them for a print version of "getting to know you."

Every time I read the questionnaire, I find that I do discover something about the person answering.  Mary Tyler Moore is still spunky.  British people make a lot of literary references.  Almost everyone tries too hard to be (a) deep or (b) light-hearted in a way they want us to understand is deep.  People really love their dogs.

Another thing that happens every time I read the questionnaire is that I think about what my own answers would be, and I daydream about the day when James Lipton or Vanity Fair would care to ask me for them.

That day will never come.  But as the Mother Superior told Maria when she left the abbey to go nanny for Captain von Trapp, "when the Lord closes one door, somewhere he opens a window."

Yes, that's right.  This blog is my window from the Lord.  Thanks, Big Guy.

So here we go.  I'm going to take the Proust Questionnaire.  I invite you to do the same with your loved ones.  Or just say your answers to yourself in front of the mirror.  Or tell them to your dog.  He'll probably appreciate how much you refer to him in your answers.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being with my family with no schedule or deadline or end in sight, and with children who are perfectly and quietly entertained throughout.

What is your greatest fear?
Delay.  As in traffic, a long line, or an inbound flight that has yet to land and is throwing my outbound flight completely off schedule.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Helen Keller.  Because I, too, will do whatever it takes to read.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

What is your favorite journey?
The one from the delivery room to the recovery room, in a wheelchair, with your arms full of a swaddled little person (who's yours.  This isn't a baby-snatching fantasy.)

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
The appearance of it.

Which living person do you most despise?
Politicians.  I know that's a class of people, so just pick one and that's my answer.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"Apparently."  And whatever the phrase is that makes up the sound of a fake laugh.

What is your greatest regret?
My senior prom.  Long story short, kicked off a slow and steady personal decline.  I blame the at-home updo.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My family.

When and where were you happiest?
Pre-marriage and kids, that would be summer camp.  Camp Wohelo.  You should go.

Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to inspire goose-bumps with my singing.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My inability to just let go.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
The fact that my sisters don't live a stone's throw away.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My two children.  And seizing on the opportunity to move back to Maine.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A stop-light or a stop-watch.  Definitely something with "stop" in it.  Hopefully not a door-stop.

What is your favorite occupation?

What is your most marked characteristic?

Who are your favorite writers?
The good ones.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Jo March from Little Women or Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Katharine Hepburn and my grandfathers.

What is it that you most dislike?
Waiting.  Idiots.  Egg white omelettes.

How would you like to die?
Peacefully.  And after everybody else.

What is your motto?
Better luck next time.