Thursday, August 31, 2006

Welcome to my cat blog

I was working on a book Monday that really got under my skin. In it, the author made a passing remark about blogs, breaking them down into three categories: cat blogs: in which people write about their pets, children, lovers, jobs, likes and dislikes; boss blogs, in which employers post information pertinent to their employees; and viral blogs, in which the passionate try to affect a change, primarily in politics.

I was a little insulted, so I visited to take a look at some other definitions. There, I was subjected to a rude beating about the head, chest, and neck. As of this moment, there are 36 different definitions of the word blog, most of which are derogatory. I mean, some people really don’t like them:

A meandering, blatantly uninteresting online diary that gives the author the illusion that people are interested in their stupid, pathetic life. Consists of such riveting entries as "homework sucks" and "I slept until noon today."

A place where people bitch about their daily activities in which nobody else is interested. Topics covered include (but are not limited to): why they argued with a boyfriend; how they ended up together at last; daily anorexic activities like drinking blended organic fruits and vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner; talking about cutting themselves with a razor blade and how good it felt; bitching about their shopping activities and what they got, etc.

A page on the internet, regularly updated by someone who, ostensibly, can find nothing better to do with their time.

Zipping over to Wikipedia, I was somewhat mollified to read a less insulting definition:

The modern blog evolved from the online diary where people would keep a running account of their personal lives.

Folks, I’m not interested in forcing the hapless internet user into reading inane and rambling postings all about me ... me ... me. I think of my blog as a writing exercise, and a great way to keep friends and family informed about what’s going on with me and my family. When I first started keeping a blog, I sent an email to all my friends and selected family members, excited about this new tool. I don’t think they were nearly as excited about it as I was. To date, I’m certain that one out-of-town friend keeps up with me on a regular basis (you know who you are, Sweetcheekscakes), and a New Orleanian college pal may read it occasionally, but rarely comments. I have some devoted in-town friends that read it, and their comments and positive feedback keep me stoked.

So, okay, I’ll admit it. I’m the proud owner of a cat blog. And I don’t even have a cat. But I do have a dog name Bella, and I discovered the other day that I have somehow turned her from an independent, feisty little Westie into a tittie baby of immense proportions.

But that’s a posting for another day.

Monday, August 28, 2006

In space, no one can hear you scream

We’ve been tormenting LegoGuy for months with our plan to introduce him to the world of scary films. One benefit of having children is passing on to them our own quirky interests and passions. Like many Americans, we love a good scare. Now that LegoGuy’s stepped across the threshold into the teenage years, we figured that the thunderstorm that hit us on Saturday was a perfect night to pull out one of our favorite scare fests, Alien.

Sure, there are other films out there that can scare the bejeezus out of you. Personally, I can’t stand to watch any more serial killer movies. They come too close to reality and make me have nightmares. I’m not willing to expose my kid to blood and gore extravaganzas since I don’t even like those, myself. I like thrillers rather than horror. I like an original idea, something that’s smart rather than shocking. I like movies that keep you thinking about them days after the first viewing.

Alien fits all my criteria. Think about it for a second. A crew of seven stumbles across a radio signal that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. When they investigate, one of their members is attacked by a facehugger. The victim haplessly incubates an alien life form that later bursts from his chest, sheds its skin at an alarming rate and grows into an immense, acid dripping, killing machine. To me, the alien is not nearly as frightening as the aspect of becoming an incubator for its progeny. That’s horror, folks.

LegoGuy spent much of the second half of the movie with a pillow over his head. When Ripley battled the beast, blasting it into space through the hold of her escape shuttle, he could barely breathe.

“That was the most tense thing I have ever seen,” he said when it was finally over. Later, I heard him retelling the whole story to his brother, who’d been holed up in our bedroom watching cartoons. Sport’s not old enough to appreciate the thrill of a good scare. He’s still got some real horrors to deal with in the next few years: his first real crush, sex-ed classes, and co-ed bathrooms.

When faced with co-ed bathrooms, I'll take an incubating chestburster anytime.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Secrets and flies

Not long ago, I cataloged a book called PostSecret. It documented a community art project in which people were invited to anonymously share a secret. Written on postcards, the secrets poured in: regrets, fears, betrayals, confessions, childhood humiliations. Many of the postcards were handcrafted -- little works of art in themselves. Browsing through the book, there are some startling revelations:

* He's been in prison for two years because of what I did.
9 more to go.
* I tell people I'm an atheist, but I believe
I'm going to Hell.
* I'm sorry. We were young, and I think about -- and regret --
it every day.
* I faked sorrow at my Dad's funeral, when I, in fact,
was selfishly happy I didn't have to wipe his butt anymore.

So what's my dark, terrible secret? I was discussing this with a friend the other day. Brace yourself:

* I once stood by while a neighbor kid drowned a toad.
I didn't intervene.

No big deal, really, except to the toad. But I still feel badly about it. I came up with another one last night:

* I like eating in hole-in-the-wall restaurants, despite the flies.

The dark thoughts I have from time to time would probably take up an entire package of postcards, but the only person I'd ever be comfortable sharing them with is my therapist. Sometimes when I'm really tired, and the demands of parenting overwhelm me, I wonder what it would be like to be childless. Sometimes, late at night, when my parents are driving me crazy (which is most of the time), I wish I was an orphan. When the sun comes up, I'm usually able to chase these thoughts away, and face the day with a renewed optimism.


Monday, August 21, 2006

40 years into the future

This morning I went to a birthday/retirement party for a friend who’s worked for 40 years at the library system. Forty years! I think this was his first real job after graduating from college. I’ve been trying to imagine what life would have been like if I’d stayed at some of those early jobs I worked. What a journey!

After a semester of grad school at the University of Maryland, I decided a Master’s degree in creative writing really wasn’t the best route to go, so I came back to Oklahoma to consider my options (and be near my boyfriend). I got a job as a typesetter and sometime reporter for a local newspaper, making just barely over minimum wage. I moved into a dive of an apartment was thrilled by my independence. Over time, the editor let me write some mildly entertaining stories and take some photographs of grand openings and candid photos of kids playing in the park. I came up with a summer series, creating a Fun-O-Meter and rating different activities on a scale of 1-10. Totally cheesy! Would I have been able to spend 40 years at that job? Not without ending up as the co-editor in the corner office, a shriveled up woman with a dowager hump, who muttered to herself and obsessively collected designer Barbie dolls.

Next it was on to a desktop publishing job, putting together specialized directories. I learned how to do this on one of the early Macs, and got to be a whiz at Pagemaker. My boss was a chain-smoking, coffee-drinking sexual harasser, but in the days before Anita Hill, no one had the nerve to call it such. He was always wanting to pop my back. He’d bring me into his office to play mind games. My supervisor was his live-in girlfriend, so there was really no one I could talk to about my discomfort. Lasting 40 years in this job was not an option as the owner went bankrupt and my boss was investigated for misappropriation of funds. I was never more thrilled than the day I was let go. Sweet release!

On to another stint as a desktop publisher, this time sharing office space with a certified psychic. The days would drag out as my boss only had enough work coming in to keep me busy for half the day. The rest of the time I would read, balance my checkbook, or eavesdrop on the pyschic's sessions. She had a pretty good client base. Often, I'd hear her talk about a future journey, or a big change just around the corner, or perhaps the need to evaluate a certain relationship -- stuff that was so general as to apply to anyone's situation. Staying there wasn't an option: not enough to keep me busy. But I definitely could see myself, after 40 years, becoming Madame AQ: the Typesetting Psychic.

"Hear your future, and, while you wait, let me make you up a nifty set of business cards!"

Friday, August 18, 2006

As the light dies in my eyes

Still adjusting to our back-to-school schedule. We’ve implemented a complex morning shower routine, and it seems to be working. Sport, however, tends to linger under the water spray and takes a leisurely approach to waking up. LegoGuy took it upon himself to hurry his brother along. He burst into the bathroom, shouting like a Drill Sergeant.

“In this house, we take military showers! Do you know what a military shower is, soldier? That’s 60 seconds of water time. Sixty seconds! Let’s go! Get it in gear! Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

SO and I were at the table, laughing at the muffled shouts. LegoGuy came out to the kitchen with a mischievous grin. “I saw the light go out of his eyes,” he said.

The boys and their dad aren’t quite used to these early mornings, having slept late most of the summer. And all these bodies to bump into while I’m trying to get ready for work have thrown me off as well. I’m thinking by next week we’ll be acclimated. The hardest thing to get used to, however, is the loss of free time. We’ve got to worry about meet-the-teacher night, open house, parent/teacher conferences, orchestra practice, homework, concerts, piano lessons, theory lessons, recitals, contests, music programs. No more family movie nights, quiet reading on the couch, leisurely visits with friends, impromptu soccer games on the front lawn. The familiar fist of tension starts to grow in my chest.

Adding to the stress is the possibility that LegoGuy will start “dating” this year. We told him he could go on group dates as long there was an adult somewhere to chaperone. Yes, it sounds old-fashioned, but I can’t imagine sending a group of 7th graders out minus a level-headed grown-up to keep an eye on things.

I’m also sorry to report that Sport has reached the age that he will not hold my hand in public. I noticed this when walking him to VBS a couple weeks ago. I reached out to take his hand and he pulled away. “I still love you, Mom,” he said, “But I am in 3rd grade now.”

That fist of tension in my chest is now mixed with a little sadness. They have to grow up, don't they?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Public pool, dead ahead!

Had lunch today with Gouldie and The Boy. As we finished our sandwiches, he interrupted to ask breathlessly, "After we're done, can we go to the store and buy -- can we buy -- can we get..."

"Yes?" The anticipation builds.

"...a wheelchair?"

Explosive laughter.

I think I'll get one, too. After our field trip to the public pool yesterday, I'm in need of another way to get around. I stepped on a plastic Titanic replica and bruised the arch of my foot. What was once a fun kid activity is now an adult death trap.

To pass the time in the dog days of a San Antonio summer, my parents would drop us off at the local public pool. We'd spend hours there, jumping off the diving board, doing the "NESTEA Plunge," playing Marco Polo, and basically annoying the hell out of any grown-ups who happened to cross our path. This being the South Side, where few had air conditioning and fewer had private pools, we were generally packed in the water shoulder to shoulder. I don't remember ever swimming -- it was more like bobbing up and down. Once the lifeguard whistled all of us out of the pool due to a passing lightning storm. Instead of waiting around for Dad to pick us up, we decided to walk home -- without shoes and in the blistering heat. We swaddled our feet in towels to protect the tender soles. God, what a bunch of idiots.

So we're at the pool yesterday, and as soon as we get there, in goes Sport. He spends the next 7 minutes cajoling me to get in. I, however, like to do things gradually. LegoGuy grabs his plastic Titanic and they re-enact the sinking. While they are occupied, I sneak in and start a leisurely swim down the middle of the pool. Along the way I'm assaulted by two red-headed girls who nearly cannonball into me from the side, a teenager with magenta-colored hair who is rooted to the bottom and refuses to budge as I come closer, and the chubbiest 5-year-old kid I've ever seen, gripping onto a noodle for dear life. There's no room to swim. There's barely room to breathe.

Before I know it, the boys have spotted me and are racing toward me at top speed, begging me to "Watch this!" I stand like an iceberg, watching the inevitable. Everywhere I turn, LegoGuy and Sport are there, plunging the tiny Titanic under the water, subjecting its victims to infinite drownings and resurrections. At one point, I let down my guard and start to walk toward the shallow side to take a breather. That's when I step down hard on the stupid ship. No, I didn't swear. Out loud, anyway.

Wheelchair, anyone? Or at least a tranquilizer.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Piano teachers are from Hell

There’s something about Sport’s piano teacher that really intimidates me. Maybe it’s the golden tint of her waist-length, peroxide-treated hair, or the flash of turquoise on her well-manicured toes. Possibly, it’s the glitter and flair of the rings she wears on every finger of each hand. Or it could be the way she applies a layer of thick pan makeup to hide the wrinkles around her eyes, a clever and skillful way of disguising the fact that her 60th birthday is fast approaching.

Don't get me wrong -- she's a good teacher. She’s very talented, but her intensity is a little scary. She eats musical notes for breakfast. But I've always thought music teachers were a bit odd. She seems to have conversations with the busts of composers sitting on shelves near her piano. She’s also got about 10 cats living with her. And Sport loves her.

Once she chewed him out over a poorly-practiced piece of music. Sitting there on the piano bench, tears filled his eyes. “I’m just a little child,” he told her. One look at his pooling baby blues, and she broke down and hugged him. From that moment on, it’s like he became her favorite student. Is it because he had the courage to talk back to her? That he wasn’t afraid to show his emotions? Or is it because he’s just too darn cute to resist?

I’ve had many piano teachers over the years, but the one I remember with the most clarity is Mrs. Stout. She was a little old woman with gnarled hands and a sour expression. My sister and I went each week to her house, dutifully dropped off by Dad. The house smelled of baby oil and something else I couldn't quite put my finger on. (Was it tapioca?) Being the oldest, I’d go first. She’d wrestle my fingers into position. When I played a wrong note, she’d slap me on the back of the hand with a ruler. I really didn’t like her.

She had an ancient bulldog. We’d hear his labored breathing long before he appeared in the living room, his toenails clattering on the tile floor. He’d sit on the floor near Mrs. Stout’s handmade ragdolls. He looked comically out of place next to those bright, embroidered smiles.

Last night, Sport’s teacher chastised him over the quality of his scales. I tensed, waiting for her to pull a ruler out and smack him on the hands. Instead, she gave him a high five and a piece of candy.

Times have certainly changed.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Teenage girls can't stop the rock!

Took LegoGuy and Sport to see their first "rock concert" last night -- MuggleFest in Norman was featuring Harry and the Potters. The show opened with Draco and the Malfoys. (No word yet on appearances by Ron and the Weasleys, Hermione and the Grangers, or Dumble and the Doors.) There was an annoying costume contest in which the audience was invited to cheer and applaud for their favorites.

Did I mention there were a lot of teeny-bopper girls in the audience? And when they cheer, it's really more like screaming -- a double octave, high C kind of scream? I thought my eardrums were bleeding.

When Draco and the Malfoys started thrashing across the stage, a large group of these girls rushed up and jostled about for the next hour and a half. No boys their age were brave enough to join the fray. LegoGuy wasn't about to do it -- he was too cool. Sport might have gone up to check out the drum set, but I was afraid he'd get crushed under the mass of gyrating, prepubescent bodies. Then Harry and the Potters got up to belt out an earsplitting blend of punk rock, thrash, and magic. The girls went wild when one of the Harrys jumped into the audience and started dancing. Hormones oozed out of pores and onto the floor.

Watching these girls took me back to my own middle school days. Not long after Elvis died, our school was visited by a local Elvis impersonator. We were all transfixed by the groundswell of public grief over the King's passing, watching memorial shows on TV and old broadcasts of Elvis in his glory days. So once the impersonator hit the stage, we girls knew what to do. We impersonated the Elvis fans of the 1950s with an eerie authenticity. We screamed, we danced, we emitted fake sobs, we reached up to grab at his leg. He threw silk scarves at us. My sister even tossed him her comb. He pulled it through his greasy pompadour, then threw it back to her. Later, she taped that comb up on our bedroom wall. It stayed there for years, a silent reminder of the extremes of teenage emotion.

Rock 'n roll, baby! Rock ... and ... Roll.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Why be normal?

You know how the atmosphere shivers ahead on the highway when you drive through the desert? That's the way things feel around me right now. Uncertain and unreal. At any moment, I'm expecting the other shoe to fall. The signs are all there: increased manic activity, prophesying, spending sprees, mood swings, crying jags, ultimatums. I'm pretty sure my mom is about to launch into another psychotic episode, and my whole body is tense. I look back, far back into the past and try to find normal.

I was about 12 or 13 when Mom had her first vision. We were driving home from a tiny town in Soutwest Texas where my father was serving as interim minister. Nearing the outskirts of San Antonio, my mother covered her eyes with her hands and starting shouting: seeing the faces of relatives who had passed over, praising the Lord. freaking the hell out of us.

This was not the best way to enter adolescence. At first, I was convinced my mother was dying. Later, wrapped up in self-centeredness, I didn't care what was causing it. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted her to quit crying all the time. I wanted someone to pay attention to me. Ahhh, teenagers. It wasn't until I'd graduated from college that she was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder. So now I watch LegoGuy and Sport from the corner of my eye and wonder, which one is it going to be? Who's going to pass that little gem of a gene onward?

But, as Eeyore said to me the other day, that kind of thinking is colored with shades of Nietzsche. What's normal, anyway? There's probably not a single family who doesn't have its share of crazy. Crazy is trying to watch a documentary on American history while the boys' bowels rumble with a calliope of fart sounds, making us all giggle. Crazy is seeing a pretty girl walk across the parking lot while LegoGuy launches into a porn ditty ("Bow wow chicka bow wow"). Crazy is spending 6 hours cleaning up the boys' room and knowing that later I'll be watching them trash it in exactly 45 minutes flat.

Why be normal when crazy is so much more interesting?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The boys are back in town!

Bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked and brimming with stories, LegoGuy and Sport returned from a two-week vacation with their uncles, aunt, grandpa and cousin in the mountains of Colorado. They shared their adventures: long hikes, rides on the 4-wheeler, a hayride, campfires and s’mores every night, a trip via the electric train to visit the Denver Mint and the Natural History Museum, and an afternoon at the Denver Bronco’s training camp. Needless to say, they had a ball.

And so did we. For twelve days, SO and I got a break from the parenting routine. It was heaven. We ate out a lot and watched movies uninterrupted. The house stayed clean. There wasn’t much laundry to do. We got together with friends, had long talks, played board games. I read and worked in the garden. Needless to say, we had a ball.

Now they’re back, and we are settling into the old routine. God, I am not ready to do this again! I forgot how clueless these kids are! Sometimes I think they’re retarded. I really do. I know it’s wrong and politically incorrect for me to even use the word, but how else to explain the routine we have to go through day after day regarding the simple basics of personal hygiene? You’d think that after being reminded for five solid years to make their beds in the morning, they’d eventually do it automatically. Isn’t a habit supposed to be formed in 21 days?

SO and I get sick of hearing our voices saying the same old stuff over and over, and yesterday I made some flash cards, hoping that would prompt the boys to action.

Teeth brushed?
Dishes cleared?
Hair combed?
Shoes put away?

I’ve even taken to threatening them with a sharp object. “Do you want me to poke you with a pin?” Call the Child Abuse Hotline!

School starts in less than thirteen days. Sport’s piano lessons start back up next week. Soon we’ll be over our heads in scheduling, deadlines, teacher-parent meetings, orchestra concerts, contests and recitals. The memories of our two-week oasis will fade.

Next summer, I’ll be in the market for someone who’s willing to host the boys for a couple weeks. Any takers?

Currently reading:
In Cold blood, by Truman Capote
Just finished:
Flushed: how the plumber saved civilization, by W. Hodding Carter
New obsession:
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
I'm sick of hearing about:
Mel Gibson