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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

So's Your Face

I hooked back up with Steph, one of my oldest and dearest friends from high school a few weeks ago (thanks, Facebook! You make it possible to reconnect with both people you want to find and those who you don't want to find you, like the freaky Dominoes pizza guy who stalked you in college! Awesome! BLOCK!!!).

Turns out Steph is the mother to a four year old boy, and at some point our conversation turned to bullying. While we both said we didn't want our kids to be victimized by the little assholes of their respective elementary schools (east coast, deep south, doesn't matter; every school has its own unique breed of tormenters), I was quick to bring up how upset I'd be if Lily ended up bullying someone else.

I mean, having been the recipient of much cruel, pointless bitchery in junior high (my best friend broke up with me the summer before 8th grade, dropping me for a more popular group of fembot preteen witches, and she would routinely call me, all contrite and sweet, "Do you want to be best friends again?" and I'd get tears in my eyes, "Yes! YES!!!", at which point she'd splurt, "Well, I DON'T!!!" and then I'd be treated to the snickers of a bunch of girls on the extension before the phone got slammed down in my ear and I ran to my mother's lap to cry for hours), I know how mean girls can be.

While I can't imagine rasing a bully, I sure do know how to comfort and pep-talk the hell out of a kid who is being tormented for no good reason. My parents had their hands full with me, between the junior high c-u-next-tuesdays and a girl in elementary school named Danielle Crabtree, who thought it hilarious to make fun of my Italian last name and tell me I was stupid for believing in Santa Claus. My father's answer was, "YOUR last name? Just call her Danielle Crab-Ass!" and I knew it was no laughing manner when my father actually gave me permission to curse. I never did use the expletive when dealing with Danielle, opting instead to just ignore her, but I kept it in my arsenal in case of future necessity. She ended up moving away anyway.

The point is, my parents taught me well about compassion and boosting a little girl's self-esteem when she's being picked on. But if Lily turned out to be the one doing the picking, I would be downright distraught. I mean, what drives a child to be cruel? Is it innate? Is it them acting out something going on at home? Are some kids just born bad? I don't know the answer to this. And my hope is that Lily will end up being friends with everybody, and feel no need to vent inner rage on others for no good reason. She will be the philanthropic do-gooder kid in her school, opting to start a PETA club and boycotting prom and being voted friendliest or most likely to change the world. OK, maybe I'm getting carried away. I'd settle for happy and well-adjusted.

As long as she's kind to her fellow man, I'm cool.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


My daughter is a little bit of a hypochondriac. At least she comes by it honestly. I am the descendant of a long, rich bloodline of champion worriers; My dad's got his internist on his speed dial. My mom's stock response, like her mother before her, is often an emphatic, Oh, my GOD!, or Jesus Christ! before you've even imparted the whole story (bless her heart, she just wants you to know how much she cares about what happened to you). And my sister once convinced herself she had AIDS because of a recurring bladder infection.

I've never been much of a worrier, which is weird, maybe. I don't spend a lot of time pushing at my breasts looking for lumps or examining moles or picking at the growing toe fungus I developed from a bad pedicure a couple summers ago (which is gross, but not really threatening in any way). I tend toward the thinking that if you ignore it long enough, it'll eventually go away, or at least hibernate for a while and leave you alone.

But Lily's been coming up with some really irritating ways of distracting herself lately. I know it's probably only because of the massive amount of transition going on around her...we've only been here 2 months and it's common for anyone, especially, I'd imagine, a little kid, to try and manipulate what they can in their environment when so much of it seems beyond their control, right? Some of these complaints are plain ridiculous though.

(While watching TV) "Mama? One of my eyes feels hot."

(Waking me up in the morning to inform me) "Mama?. MAMA. I accidentally stuck my finger in the cat's mouth and his tooth pricked me and now it really hurts."

(After we put down poison to kill fire ants in the front yard) "I think I have fire ants in my bed and they are biting my stomach now."

"I'm too full to go to school."

What to do? I want to support my little girl and let her know I care and that I'm here for her, but Jeez. I also don't want to encourage her worrying.

Thoughts, guys?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dead Dog

I'm reading Linda Lou's poignant and inspiring memoir, Bastard Husband: A Love Story and I came across a passage that resonated with me, especially today. She describes meeting two strangers at the DMV and how just having a friendly interaction with them made an otherwise shitty day better. (By the way, if you haven't read Linda's book, you can buy it here. And I strongly recommend that you do [makes threatening mafia-type throat-slitting gesture]). It's kick ass.

I had a similar experience today, incidentally. Sort of. I was working on the computer earlier and was startled right out of my very skin by the dog's savage barking and snarling and hurling his full weight at the front door.

Ah, I thought to myself, heart pounding double time in my ears, Mail must be here.

The dog has routinely tried to kill the mailman every day since way before I lived in this house, and still his daily attempt to break through the front door around 10 am rattles me to the core. I took a deep yogic breath and tried to get back to work.

Then the doorbell rang, and I thought, Shiiiiit. The mailman never rings the bell. Maybe it's not him after all. Please, please don't let it be the Jehovah's Witnesses, I fretted. Or the Baptists. Or the Catholics. Jeremy has taken to putting my name on the mailing lists of many of the local churches, so I have been receiving a variety of religious marketing literature instructing me how to be saved by accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior and drinking his blood and such. It's terribly amusing.

Luckily, it was just the mailman. And I like the mailman. See, when you are living the life of a suburban house frau, you get to know the folks who drift through your neighborhood when the normal people are at work. I'm also on a first name basis with the garbage man and my neighbor's mosquito exterminator. My situation's probably not much different than that of a retired or infirm person.

The dog protested bitterly as I put him out back, and then I opened the front door. The mailman was standing a few feet away on the lawn, mace in hand. I would not want this poor bastard's job. Still, he had an ease about him. He's tall, like Harlem Globetrotters-tall, and has a gentle smile that's disarming and friendly. He's kind of like what you'd expect the mailman to be on a kids show.

"Sorry," I said, embarrassed. "He's old and protective and kind of grouchy. I really hope he dies soon."

The words came out before I could stop them, and the mailman started laughing.

I felt bad for saying that, though. I mean, yes, the dog is a pain in the ass, but I don't want him to die. He may be high strung and he has weird territorial issues with the bed (I get up to pee at 2 am and he's rolled into my spot, and when I groggily try to lay back down he emits a stream of threatening falsetto growls from his bowels and refuses to move), but he's generally a good dog. Mostly he is a nice dog. Except not when he's on the bed.

He does snack out of the litter box, too, and actually barfed up a bunch of partially-digested cat turds in my front seat one morning on the ride to school, (this was my fault though; I should never have brought him. Although he likes going for car rides in theory, and gets all tail-waggin and stuff when we put his leash on, once he's actually in the car, all he does is whine and try to escape), but he's gentle with Lily and will tirelessly play with her in the yard until she's exhausted. So, no. I don't really want the dog to die.

"I shouldn't have said that. That really wasn't nice, and it's not true," I said, my mouth stretched into an embarrassed thin line.

The mailman just continued to laugh and broke into an easy grin as he handed me an envelope and had me sign for it. "I know, I know, but hoo boy! It was a funny thing to say. You just made my day, you know that?"

I was surprised. "I did?"

"Yeah, I have not been having the best day, see, I thought I lost my wallet, and I was late for work, and you saying that about your dog just cracked me up. It made me feel better. Thanks for that".

This pleased me. I was glad to have had that effect on someone's day. See? We never know when some mindless or simple thing we say will make somebody feel better. Even if the subject of the hoot-worthy statement was a dead animal. I'm sure the dog would forgive me, though. We all have shitty days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Babysitter's Here

The doorbell rang promptly at 5:45 and our 16 year old neighbor stepped into the foyer, all sparkling eyes and Loves Baby Soft. I ran around the house in a black dress, sliding in an earring and wiping sweat from my neck, wishing I'd shaved my damn legs.

"My cell number is on the kitchen counter...she needs to eat all her dinner before she has ice cream...we'll be home by 9!"

This was received with a reassuring nod and I felt terrific relief to have found a babysitter who lived right across the street. What luck!

This was the first time we'd left Lily with a sitter since we'd moved to Baton Rouge. And how I loved the convenience of this. Most of the babysitters we'd had in the city needed to rely on an inconvenient assemblage of public transportation to get to us, and I would always pay for a taxi to get them home, especially if I got back late, which I often did.

But having a babysitter on your street, whoa. Here was a sure sign that you've passed through the membrane between clueless-idiot-playing-house and full-fledged-responsible-adult. This was how it was supposed to be. Niiiice.

When I was little, my favorite babysitter, Kate, lived across the street from us. I was so excited when my parents finally decided to get a life and leave us with a sitter. Of course, I immediately understood this to mean that once we'd tricked my little sister, Lisa, into falling asleep, Kate and I would hang out together all night, eating popcorn and drinking soda and watching Fantasy Island because it would be immediately evident that I was way cooler and more grown-up than other six-year-old girls. I assumed that Kate probably would even refuse to take my parents' money at the end of the night, because babysitting me was really more like hanging out with a girlfriend, and could she take me to the mall on Sunday? She really wanted to buy me some Jordache jeans.

OK, it didn't exactly go like that. But I still loved Kate anyway. She was wonderfully kind and patient, and she was the first person out of my immediate family to call me "Kris", as if she had an immediate sisterly familiarity with me. I loved it.

In preparation for Saturday night, I worked for hours on a Lite Brite portrait of Kate (Lite Brite was my current medium, having tired of cray pas and scented markers). Of course I'd never met her, but in my head she looked just like Sandy from Grease, as I expected all teenage girls did.

She didn't end up looking like Sandy, but she had longer hair than anyone I'd ever and thick, and she let me brush and style it for hours, decorating it with pink and red plastic barrettes and pieces of yarn. She also tolerated all the things Lisa and I did to try and 'entertain' her, including sitting patiently for long stretches while I made my barbies lip synch to "Hopelessly Devoted to You", and "If I can't Have You" (In addition to the Grease soundtrack, the Saturday Night Fever album also got continuous play in our house).

When it was finally time for bed, I fell asleep secure in the knowledge that I'd impressed Kate, that I'd shown her what a mature and interesting kid I really was. I drifted off feeling like I'd nailed it. That was, until I sleepwalked into the bathroom and pulled down my pants and passed out, slumped on the toilet with my pjs around my ankles, which is how Kate found me and had to put me back to bed. Fuck.

When I became a babysitter myself, I realized how easy it was to just completely slack off, and this kind of scared me. I wondered if my babysitters actually had done the things I did when I was responsible for a house full of kids (turning the clock ahead an hour to make them go to bed, having several bowls of ice cream while talking on the phone for hours, falling asleep in front of an R-rated movie). I realized with dismay that probably, that time I woke up and walked in on Kate and her 'friend' on the living floor 'wrestling', that wasn't actually the scenario at all. It's impossible to delve into the complicated mind of a teenager until you are one yourself.

I imagine that, in hindsight, the things I did weren't that bad, however. Though I did have an affinity for drama (I loved removing the 6 month old I babysat from her crib as soon as her parents pulled out of the driveway, clutching her to my chest, rubbing her bald head as I reenacted tearful scenes from movies like Terms of Endearment; I would faux-sob in front of the mirror and pretend to yell at my straying husband to 'Get out! Just leave! How could you do this to us!!!'), and I did like to raid the fridge of my employers once the kids were down for the night, I was a fairly responsible babysitter. I never had any boys over or would even think about drinking or anything really stupid. I was just a normal teenager who did dumb things sometimes.

Which, now that I think about it, is kind of scary, if today's teen babysitters are anything like they were back then. Oh, well. I'll just make sure I hide the matches.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Here's the story...of a lovely lady...

For all the nice folks who complimented my writing skills after my last post, I want to apologize for this next one.

They can't all be winners, you know. Sometimes you just have to blog about cat excrement.

When making preparations to move a thousand miles across the country to blend two distinctly different families, you spend a lot of time worrying about how your 5 year old child will adjust to her new home. You wonder how your boyfriend, who has been living the bachelor life of imported beer, Pay-Per-View boxing matches and unrestricted masturbatory freedom, will take to having a spirited little girl running through his house in pumpkin underpants, demanding juice boxes and "Hannah Montana" reruns. You hope that everyone will get along, and you do everything in your power to make the transition as painless as possible for all humans involved.

You do not consider, however, what the transition will be like for all your goddamned pets.

I arrived in Baton Rouge with two male cats: Sea Monkey – hulking, timid as a mouse and adoringly snuggly with only me – and Nugget, a kitten (three months? Four?) – teeny, silky-soft, energetic, and sweet as a fresh apple pie.

Already living in the house were Jeremy's ornery old dog (a grouchy, loveably-doofy mutt with some kind of life-threatening heart condition), three set-in-their-ways female cats, and two turtles who really don't count because they don't do much of anything except splosh in their tanks and eat dried crickets, which, incidentally, smell like vomit left to fester in a 100 degree car.

The interactive dynamics of six high-maintenance, spoiled animals were interesting to watch at first.

Sea Monkey hates the dog for no good reason, and goes out of his way (will literally turn around in the hallway and go in the other direction) in order to swipe at and intimidate him. The dog, a total puss, will whine whenever the kitten is even 3 feet away from his stuffed chew toy in-the-shape-of-a-candy-corn, and look to us as if pleading, " something about this!!!"

Joe, one of Jeremy's cats, has begun acting like a surly goth teen girl, staying out all night, avoiding everyone and even dying her hair black (ok, she was always black), and his other two cats act mostly as if mine aren't there at all.

Mostly, it's been fine.

But someone's begun crossing the line.

This morning, as I was brushing my teeth, blinking back my pre-coffee daze and slathering preparation H under my eyes, Jeremy walked in carrying the laundry basket, holding it at arms length the way one might a massive, rotting beef carcass.

"What?" I mumbled through toothpaste foam.

He simply lifted his eyebrows and nodded toward the basket. His look managed to be simultaneously accusing and resigned, as if to say, "Just look what I have to live with. I'm a goddamned saint."

Upon closer examination I saw, nested atop his brand new work slacks, a series of long, sticky cat turds that looked awfully fresh...almost steamy, even.


I shook my head and matched his expression with a drawn frown, which silently responded, "Goddamnitfuck, I will deal with it later, just like I deal with everything else around here" (when you live with someone, see, you begin to communicate's magical, really), and turned back to the mirror, determined not to even look at the laundry basket til after coffee.

Wait. But it gets better.

I got Lily ready for school, and as she was getting her shoes on by the back door, I heard her yelp as she kicked a pink sparkly flip flop across the room.

"My shoe is wet! Aaack!"

She began wiping the bottom of her wet foot on the back of her leg, and then the smell hit us, and I had terrible flashbacks of that poor kid in elementary school who was always banished to the back of the classroom because he stank of cat pee.

So we ran into the bathroom and I scrubbed her little feet and legs, and cleaned off the plastic sandals with antibacterial soap, all the while muttering, "Sorry, sorry, so sorry about this, gross, yuck, sorry baby", because I felt responsible that she lived in a home overrun by vengeful animals.

And it's funny, because Jeremy and I are equally defensive of our respective pets. He can't imagine that his darling girl cats would do anything as provocative and dirty as pee and poop in our clothes and I would bet money that my sweet, innocent boy cats simply don't have the balls to pull a stunt like this. It's too personal. Girls are way bitchier, way better at plotting this kind of thing. I just know it.

So, we eye each others pets, keep a look out in the hopes that one of us can finally go, "Aha! See??? Twas yooooour monstrous animal!!!" with some kind of modern-day Brady Bunch-type of redemptive satisfaction.

For the time being, we'll be sleeping with one eye open, you can count on it.

But until the culprit is caught, my sneakers are staying in the closet.