Sunday, November 5, 2017

Guerilla Warfare: Laundry Style

I've done a lot of laundry in my life.  Let me pause a moment here to clarify.  When I say "a lot of laundry," I do not mean we fill up the laundry baskets each week.  I do not mean more than three loads a week.  I mean a minimum of three loads A DAY.  Every day, all week long, every week of every month.  And by "load" I mean in my high capacity, "can do fourteen bath towels at a time" washing machine.  I mean piles of towels larger than a small recliner.  I mean mountains of sleeping bags and blankets used as sleeping bags.  Apparently while camping in mud pits.  I mean masses of dirty sports gear that defies the limits of my maximum high capacity washer and dryer.  It.  Never.  Ends.

I have a profound and new respect and reverence for anyone who toiled over laundry before automatic washers and dryers.  I cannot imagine doing laundry before electricity.  Of course, people had fewer clothes back then and didn't seem to need the quantity of stuff we need today.  I think a large aspect of this was the laundry.  I know I would be one of the moms speaking up with, "Yes, that lovely duvet is a stunning match to the new wallpaper.  Do I have to wash it?  Then it's a NOPE.  I'll keep the old quilt thanks."  And "Yes darling, that silk dress is just as cute as it could be.  Do I have to wash it?  Then nope.  You can make due with the two dresses you already have. Do.  Not.  Get.  Them.  Dirty."  I would definitely be one of those moms who let their kids run around mostly naked all the time, as long as it meant I didn't have wash more clothes.  White Trash R Us.

This is the millennium-long guerrilla siege that has been battled on the actual home front ever since the first caveman made his first loin cloth out of his most recent kill.  He proudly held up the pelt, holding it around his waist, admiring himself in the reflection of the nearby cave pool.  His cave wife looked up from her efforts to make the first DIY dishware and sighed.  "No wear pelt in rain.  It get dirty.  Me no wanna wash."

And thus the shot heard round the world rang out.

The Guerrilla Laundry War.

Because I'm sometimes slow on the uptake, I only recently figured out I've been fighting this battle for the better part of thirty years.  I took up the post from my mother, who waged a pretty decent campaign until being overwhelmed by the siege of five daughters who changed their outfits three times a day and then whined when their mother didn't wash each of their precious sweaters by hand in Woolite.  I would have given up too.

I have to admit I threw the first serious grenade in my mother's direction.  At the age of nine months, nonetheless.  I'll give you the abridged version: baby who can walk, minor surgery, antibiotics (and all the attendant intestinal side effects of full-power 1970's penicillin), and doctor who says keep the diapers off until the stitches heal.  And thus we had my parent's first major purchase: a washing machine.

And she fought the good fight until the huddled masses, well more like 1980's lip-glossed hair-sprayed estrogen-rampant masses, simply overwhelmed her.  She won eventually, by dint of attrition (we all moved out).  But it was a long, ugly war.  And it's a guerrilla war, not a full-frontal, regulation attack.  It is sneaky and treacherous and disloyal.  It tricks and deceives you.  It does not fight fair.  And I continue the battle on the same field as my mother and as her mother before her, with slightly better weapons on my side.  I have, as mentioned above, a high-efficiency/high capacity washer and dryer.  I have detergents crafted with the same ultra R &D as plutonium bombs (after all, laundry detergent is more profitable than bombs).  I have spot removers and bleaches and modern, stain-resistant fabrics.  But the enemy's weapons are just as horrible as they ever have been.

The Enemy's Artillery Catalog

The Sock Ball of Death.  There aren't many things that make me shudder on sight.  The Sock Ball of Death does it every time.  Its rolled up, twisted appearance hides the crawling bacteria inside.  It's not just a crumpled sock, it's a sock that has been folded and scrunched down while wet with mud, sweat, and standing field water, then left at the bottom of a laundry hamper or behind a couch or under a bed until it's crunchy and stiff.  And you know, with one glance, that you cannot shake it lose.  You will have to reach your hand in and pull it free.  "Just throw it away!" I hear you scream in horror.  But this is one of the special athletic socks the coach said was REQUIRED and cost more than your last lunch at Panera.  You must resuscitate this sock.  You have to touch that sock to save it.   There is no other way.  That's the kind of dirty pool the enemy plays.  But this is why God gave us rubber gloves.  You snatch one from the nearby box and smile your confident victory smile.  Nice try, Enemy Guerrillas, but we are tougher than the Sock Ball of Death.

The Mystery Pocket.  You pick up the jeans.  They are heavier than they should be.  They're only a child's size ten after all.  They should only weigh a pound or so.  The weight is uneven and the jeans hang oddly.  A slow, dawning horror comes upon you.  Something is in the pocket.  You gulp and feel the sweat start to bead on your upper lip.  The spreading fear and apprehension is making you slightly nauseous.  You do not want to reach into that pocket because you've fought this battle once too often.  ANYTHING could be in the Mystery Pocket.  You turn the jeans upside down and shake.  Two rocks, a frayed and half-chewed lollipop stick, a bent paper clip, and a little plastic army dude from Risk fall out.  You let out a shaky breath.  Relief comes for a moment.  Then you see that the pocket is not empty yet.  There is more to remove.  More that is . . . stuck.  Slowly, you pull the edges of the pocket apart and peer in with one eye.  It won't fully open, though.  This is not a good sign.  You pull harder and see strings of something sticky stretch as you pull the fabric.  The enemy has deployed a serious bomb.  Chewed gum.  A bit of pencil eraser, three small Legos, and . . . Holy Farting Goats that's a dead frog . . .  are stuck in the gum.  But, and you take a moment to find the lemonade here, you caught it BEFORE the dryer.  Those jeans cost $25 (and that was on sale) after all.  Dead frog or not, you can save the jeans.  You are a veteran soldier in the Laundry Wars, after all.

The Mustard Gas of Laundry: Crayons/Pens.  There outta be a law.  If you sell crayons or ink pens, you should be required to include a tiny robot in each package that seeks out and retrieves any and all writing implements of said package.  Like the horror that is a mustard gas bomb, a single crayon can seep into your entire load of laundry and ruin every single item silently and completely.  The mounting anguish and anger that fills your soul as you lift a sock out of the dryer and notice a tiny smear of green where it shouldn't be builds to dread as you pull out a second piece, one of your husband's dress shirts, which also has an odd but vibrant swirl of bright green across the shoulder.  You beg and plead with the universe as you pull out one piece after another that maybe just a few articles of clothing, even just one, might have been spared by the Crayon Bomb.  In the end, you review the casualites: 93% mortality.  One sock was spared, and two hand towels received only minor wounds that can be ignored because they can go in the cleaning bin.  It's a heavy blow.  The enemy won this battle. Nevertheless, you know you will come back to fight another day.

And so, to all my fellow Guerrilla Laundry War Veterans I say, fight on!  Fight dirty . . . er . . . Clean but Unfair!  PE clothes that sat in the locker all year without a single wash?  Throw them away!  Walmart sells gym shorts for $3, you don't need that sort of nonsense in your life!  Gum chewed into the sash of your daughter's favorite princess dress that WILL cause a full mental breakdown if it isn't salvaged?  Peanut butter is your friend!  Or shorten the sash!  And ban chewing gum until she's twelve.  Full battle scene drawn with a ball point pen all over your son's white church shirt?  And done deliberately because he hates anything with a collar that buttons up?  Hairspray and then bleach will show both your son and the pen who is really in charge.  Such weak skirmishes don't even warrant your wrath.

And when all is said and done at the end of the day, remember this: one day there will be grandchildren who take up the enemy's cause and use these same weapons upon your combatants.  Karma will always be your friend. Victory WILL be yours!

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Joyous Random

This past Friday I hit a milestone anyone would appreciate.  My oldest son turned twenty-five. This means I've been parenting boys for a quarter of a century.  I've been a parent longer than that, as my daughter is two years older.  Since I consider her false advertising for what was to come, her two-year head start doesn't count in this particular discussion.  A concussed monkey could have parented her and she still would have turned out stellar.  She's that together.

The introduction of my darling, curly-haired, brown-eyed boy in to our family was like being thrown in to a 500-level course in Parenting when your other classes are online Interpretive Dance and Cake Decorating.  He was defiant.  He screamed.  He threw tantrums.  He was picky about food.  He friggin' kicked me in the shins when he was mad.  But, he also laughed wildly at everything, smiled every moment he wasn't throwing a fit, and enjoyed life in every sense a toddler can.  That bit never went away as he got older, and I saw it over and over (and over and over) with the four boys who followed him.

It's this aspect that brings me to the third part of my series on Raising Teen and Young Adult Male Humans.

Part Three:  The Joyous Random

It would be easy to whine about the crap my boys get up to and I don't give even a moment of resistance to the urge.  Hence this blog.  I whine all the time.  I call it cheap therapy.  But there is another side to the farting, smelly, punching, hairy creature we call adolescent male homosapiens that is just as compelling and provides the perfect balance for the crap that makes you scratch your head and wonder if there really is a brain between his ears.  It's the part that finds bizarre and gross things funny, that thinks up ridiculous jokes, that pulls crazy phrases out of thin air.  Think about American slang.  Where does most of it come from?  Teenagers.  Obviously, not all from boys.  The Joyous Random is part of teen girls as well, I simply have way more experience with this flavor.  

From an etymological (no, not bugs.  Look it up.) perspective, teen slang is one of the most powerful forces in society.  We all know language evolves and is one of the fundamentally pertinent tools humans have that no other living species has.  Clearly other species communicate, but there is a world of difference between: "Danger! Danger! Predator approaching!" And: "OMG, did you hear what Ashley said about Mackenzie after the dance when Tyler totes hit on her?"  As obnoxious as the second example is, it conveys so much more than a basic survival instinct and reflects myriad permutations of society and human life.  Language is Power (yes, with a capital P).  And it is constantly evolving and adjusting to meet the current needs of society.  This is why reading Shakespeare is a struggle for everyone other than grad students.  Yes, technically it's English.  And in his day, it was current and powerful and biting.  But it's not the same language we speak today.  It changed. What is one of the most powerful forces that drives this change?  Slang.  Where does slang come from?  Primarily from teens and young adults and their desire to find new and insane ways to communicate and to make them sound much more suave than they usually feel.  The Joyous Random drives that: the constant, impulsive, creative drive to find joy that is innate within all youth who haven't had it squashed out of them yet by college Statistics professors.

Let me give you some examples:

Friday morning, we are getting into the van to drive everyone to school.  Jonathan and Matthew are blathering on about something or other, I've long since tuned them out.  I'm in the driver's seat, they are each still standing outside the car, with their respective doors open.  Jonathan stops what he's saying, turns around backward, switches to robot voice, and says, "Inserting," slides in backpack first, then swings his legs around and closes the door.  He then continues on with whatever he was saying to Matthew, like he didn't just totally ad lib a sci-if scene into the morning. Just . . . What???

One evening around bedtime, Alex (then about 7 or 8) discovers he can fit both his arms and his legs into his long-sleeved t-shirt at the same time, so that each sleeve now contains and arm and a leg.  Then he discovers he can run like this.  "Look Mom!  I'm a short-necked ostrich!"  He squeak-laughs his way around the house and soon I have an entire flock of short-necked ostriches. Who knew I wanted one?

Another morning during the school drop off run, Jonathan and Matthew are arguing about something, but in a friendly way.  Again, Matthew is in back seat, Jonathan is in shot gun.  We come to a stop light, Jonathan grabs the handle on his seat that adjusts how far back the seat back leans, and lays the seat back flat, basically in Matthew's lap, all while announcing, "THERAPY MODE."  He crosses in hands across his stomach and says, "Well, doctor, it all started when I was a wee lad . . ." They both start laughing so hard I think they're going to throw up.  Again, ????

More than once, we've had solid weeks of sons speaking like they were in a Dragon Ball Z or Yugioh cartoon.  We've also had weeks of discount Japanese -- where you add Japanese endings to normal American words and spit them out like samurai warriors.  No special event accompanied these occurrences.  Just . . . because they can.

Many years ago, Alex and Jacob were chasing each other around the house, around ages 10-12ish.  We have one of those floor plans that creates a loop, which I hate.  It allows for this exact problem.  The mini-track.  Only 23,958 laps to the mile, new flooring not included.  So they are running the Davis Loop, Jacob is the chasee, Alex is the chaser.  I have absolutely no recollection what the chasing was about.  Either way, mid-sprint (and let's all take a moment to remember that Jacob is FAST) he slams to a halt in front of the phone counter, grabs a pair of Groucho Marx nose glasses (yes really, I think it was Halloween time? And that's why we had some in the house?), puts them on, turns to a fast-approaching Alex and says, pointing to the backyard, "He went that way!"  WHO THINKS OF THAT AT 40 MPH WHO ISN'T IN A WELL SCRIPTED MOVIE?!  

The Boys of the Joyous Random, that's who.

So when they argue with you about whose pee is all over the toilet seat (I am certain it isn't MINE so I'll be darn-tootin' if I'm cleaning it), when they lose it over a video game/football game/girl and put a foot through the wall, when they leave their socks all over the house so soaked in sweat and bacteria you can practically see the the sock moving on its own, remember the Joyous Random.  It is a gift and one of the most powerful forces on earth.  Allow yourself to be drawn in to.  Laugh with them and revel in their brilliance.  Remember that only a few years ago they didn't know how pants work. Now they can crack puns based on what they are learning in their US History class.  

The best part is this:  The Joyous Random lasts.  It's part of the whole concept that men never really grow up.  It's not a bad thing, it's part of what makes life, well, joyful.  The adolescent moodiness will pass.  The need to argue over whether this over-paid athlete or that over-paid athlete is better will, well it won't go away but it will get easier to tune out.  The smelliness will take care of itself as soon as he discovers girls.  And the ferocious tiger within him that springs to life as soon as Testosterone starts its dangerous but necessary work of turning your boy into a man will be tamed.  Your walls may bear the brunt of it, but walls can be repaired.  And the Joyous Random will remain.  Take every moment to enjoy it.  It's his gift to you for dealing with all the rest.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Welcome to Turdsalot

[Clever intro I can't think of right now.]
Ahem. (Cough cough)

Parenting teen and young adult males: Part 2


This week son #4 used a term for which I have been searching for years.  I didn't know I was looking for this term until he used it. A term that encompasses what it means to live in a world of constant discussion -- and performance -- of bodily functions.  See, as one of five girls, I most assuredly did not grow up in a house where discussions of fecal matter, expectoration, or flatulence were allowed, let alone common.  We had acceptable terms for bodily waste that only vaguely alluded to that actual matter involved.  I genuinely never gave the matter any amount of significant consideration beyond "Poop is gross.  Let's talk about something else."  Years later when my own children were potty training, I used the term "tinkle" in a conversation with another mother who was a native of Israel.  She gave me a blank look.  

"She did . . . what?" She asked.

"You know, she tinkled."  I responded, caught a bit unprepared to define this term.  Discussing urine with causal acquaintances was new to me at this point in my parenting experiences.  (Later I would discover the joy of discussing all matter of human waste with complete strangers.  This is what raising boys brings you to.)

"She was sparkly?"

"No, um, you know, she peed."

She looked at me again, completely devoid of both expression and comprehension.  "Why do you call it that?"

"Because of the sound it makes?"  Truthfully I had never given it a thought.  We had just always called it tinkle.  But now I had images of sparkly little rainbow pools in the toilet.  Both intriguing and disturbing.

She gave a hesitant nod and we moved on with the conversation, which was obviously so stunning that now, twenty five years later, I can only remember the portion that had to do with urine.  Stellar.

Tinkle was the only acceptable term for urine in the home I grew up in.  "Pee" was along the lines of a four-letter word.  This should give you an idea of the level of allowable phrases for other bodily functions.  Poop was only ever called a "BM" (bowel movement, for those who missed out on this bit of 1960-70's vocabulistics) but for some reason, a fart was when someone needed to make a "poopy."  Now, maybe it's just me, but when I really give a moment to thinking about the term BM, it's really soooooo much grosser than the term poop.  Which, now I think about it, is along the onomatopoeic lines of tinkle.  And let's not even start with farting being "needing to make a poopy."  Because that's just a shart, which is waaaaaay worse than plain old flatulence.  The 70's really don't make a lot of sense on so many levels.

At any rate, I was more than unprepared on the vocabulary front to raise boys.  (The list of areas on which I was unprepared to raise boys would look not unlike a chart of our galaxy.  In this case, ignorance seriously saved my sanity.  Except I'm not really sane.  So, maybe not. Blissfully nuts?  I can go with that.). I had no and I mean NO idea of the amount of brain space the male of our species gives to bodily functions.  Happily and enthusiastically so.  Like, shopping-for-shoes-at-an-amazing-sale-and-a-fab-coupon level of enthusiasm.  For the better of part of three decades I have been dropped in to this world earthy glee.

I. Do. Not. Get. It.

So when Jonathan used this term the other day, it caught my attention.  I looked at him, mildly confused.  Random fecal words are now a common and largely unnoticed part of my day.  This one was new and unknown to me.


Jonathan grins.  "Turdsalot.  You know, like Camelot."

Please allow a moment of contemplation here. . . .  This moment needs to be noted and recorded for posterity.  This moment is when I finally have a word to describe the world I live in.


Oh how I wish I was musical.  I could whip up some fantastic parodies of the musical with new poo-inspired lyrics and with some slick home videos shot on the throne.  (Get it?  Throne?  Cause it's Turdsalot? Like Camelot has a real throne but in my world it's the ceramic type? Get it? Get it?) It would need to be pretty awesome with super elementary school-era costumes and bad acting, with an off-key piano for accompaniment.  It's all so real in my head.  Because it's so real in my real.  Here are some of the nobility who live in my kingdom.

Sir TMI -- Color, content, quantity.  After every visit to the WC. Please don't. We don't want to know.  Ever. And yet we get thrice-daily reports. And after eating an entire box of Cap'n Crunch, the descriptive enthusiasm brings to mind religious fervor.  But more smelly.  Cheap fruit snacks can go neon. One has to wonder what early food scientists thought when these unexpected side affects began cropping (crapping?) up.

Sir Deadly -- You've heard the term "silent but deadly?" It was invented for the Davis boys.  Literally, they have cleared classrooms.  They thought it was hilarious.  The teachers did not.  ("Um, what are you feeding him?" Real question from a real teacher.)

Sir Boastful -- There is NO reason, I repeat NO reason to proudly Instagram the size of your leavings.  You think I am kidding.  I am not.  And apparently, "mudding" on another person is an indication of claiming victory over them.  This is something one declares loudly at the beginning of pretty much any sort of contest. Again, I have no idea. WhoWhatWhereWhenWhy = Nope.

Sir Descriptive -- Did you know you can replace about any noun in any song with a synonym for poop?  And verb?  And adjective?  Frequently all in the same sentence.  (I guess I should be happy they know their parts of speech but I'm having problems working up the energy to cheer.) And then sing about it for days on end?  Did you know you can make up entirely new songs about pooping?  Why would anyone want to, you ask?  I have no earthly . . . I just  . . . No.  

Sir Constant -- Poop. Crap. Plop. Poo. Dump. Dookie. Float a log. Drop a load. Turd. Toilet muffin. Mud.  Groundhogging. (When the poop is trying to come out but you aren't to the toilet yet.)  Little turtle.  (Constipation. As in "I gotta trick my poop into coming out so it doesn't stick out its little arms and stop itself.  Like a little turtle.") Ok I gotta stop.  I'm grossing myself out trying to remember every clever way they've come up with to refer to fecal matter.  But somehow, they have a never-ending supply of vocabulary words in this category.  Why on earth can they not turn their powers to broader horizons and knock the SAT out of the ballpark?  Sigh.

On the one hand, I totally understand that voiding one's bowels is one of the great common equalizers of humanity.  We all do it and there is absolutely no way to make it cool or suave.  I don't care how large the cadre of handlers and estheticians a celebrity has, he or she poops the same as every last person on the planet and it ain't pretty.  So I guess there is something unifying in that.  But we all breathe and sleep and eat, so I would think that of the four options, pooping is the least desirable.  Truly I would rather bond over the love of good food than of the satisfaction of a large BM.  Yet I have heard way more conversations on the later in Turdsalot than the former among the knighthood. Waaaaay more.

So here I am.  Queen of Turdsalot.  Trying to kick each of the knights out as quickly as possible before my gag reflex is permanently stuck in the "on" position. They have this way of sneaking in the back door when I'm not looking.  But I will get them all out in the end.  And then, AND THEN, we will renovate and I will be . . .


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Swamp Monkeys

You can hear crying.  It sounds like . . . like a toddler or a child?  It's coming from the wooded area across the field.  The swampy area.  You hate that area.  There are snakes and crawling, slimy things over there.  The mosquitos redefine "unbearable" over there.  It's always either raining or about to rain.  And there's no real ground.  It's like mud that can't quite get its act together so it just sloshes around among the rocks and tree roots.  It's the swamp.  Nature's landfill.  All the yuck settles here.  People only go there when there is no other option.  That appears to the be the case now.

You follow the sound across the field and into the swamp.  You've brought your knee-high rubber boots and hope you won't have to go back and get the waist-high waders. But the crying continues and you solider on.  It gets louder and . . . odder.  The crying has overtones of screeching.  Almost like nails on a blackboard?  It both raises the level of alarm within you and also snags your curiosity.  What on earth is going on in that swamp?!

Another minute slogging nearly knee-deep through what looks like moldy carpet brings the sound louder and clearer.  There is a scraggly tree up ahead.  At some point in the past lightning struck and killed off most of it, but a branch here and there hangs on.  There, on one of the mostly-alive branches, draped with moss and alien-appearing lichen, is the source of the crying.  It's not a toddler, which is good.  Because how on earth would a baby get out here in the first place?  It's a little monkey.  Monkies belong in swamps, yes? Well, no.  Not really.  At least not in twenty-first century North America, last time you checked Google for . . . monkies.  Ok, it's fair to say you have never done an internet search for North American monkies, but you'd be willing to bet your Sane Grown Up card monkies don't normally live here.  You look closer.  Especially not monkies with sparkly collars and name tags.  This little guy belongs to someone.

You slowly approach and get a better look at the creature.  You're no zoologist, but the monkey seems particularly small and fuzzy.  So, it's not a human baby, but it is a baby.  Your heart melts a little.  This poor tiny thing is just a baby and it's lost and trapped.  It's a sure bet it got itself out here, probably jumping from tree to tree, not giving a single thought to where its going, just enjoying the freedom of motion and movement.  And then all of a sudden it realized it was stuck on this raggedy tree, in the middle of yuck.  Poor baby.

You reach up to the little monkey and it scampers higher up the tree, panicking because it's scared and freaking out.  You can see its real terror and your heart breaks a little more for it.  With a soft voice and gentle motions, you convince it to creep out on the limb to you.  It hesitates and then scampers up your arm.  And clamps on to the top of your head.  Up until now, you have no personal experience with the term "death grip."  Now you do.  It means the type of grip where the gripee imbeds every possible attachment point in to the object of perceived safety.  In this case, your scalp and neck.  It's quite surprising how much pain can be sensed by the scalp.  You remind yourself that this little creature is a just a baby and its terrified.  And scalps heal. 

With slow steps, you begin making your way back across the green murky stretch of swamp back to dry land.  You're a bit shocked when you look up and realize you walked quite a bit farther than you thought you had.  Of course, on the way out, you didn't have twenty tiny claws digging into your head.  That probably affects perceived time.  Like, when you're in the dentist's chair and, between the dentist and his assistant, there are probably elevent different foreign objects being jabbed into your sensitive gums and he says, "Almost done," and then you feel actual continental drift happen before he starts removing his tools from your face?  That kind of perceived time.

Around the third step, the fuzzy baby monkey decides he needs to start serenading your travels together.  It's a repetitive shriek that hits the required sound wave length to send a spike straight from your ear to your entire spine.  Every 1.4 seconds.  You coo and try to quiet the little creature but it just thinks you're joining in and it shrieks louder and adds a few hoots for added fun.  But, the sounds seem to calm it and it relaxes its grip on your head.  So, it's a win of sorts.

It relaxes a bit more and starts to bounce and hoot at the same time.  While the sound and motion grate on your nerves, the monkey does pull out the rest of the claws.  It also starts to swish its tail around.  It discovers it can wrap its tail around you, in fact.  Right around your face and over your eyes.  It discovers this just as you are about to step over a dead log in the mud.  With right leg lifted, you suddenly lose sight and inhale monkey fur seasoned with poo. Since not even Spider-Man could have maintained both his cool and his balance at this point, and you are quite certain you are not Spider-Man, you stumble.  Your shin rediscovers the fallen log and you are pretty sure you're about to get a face full of mud when your fall is stopped by your knee collapsing on to the dead log.  So, you've traded mud up the nose for probable below the knee paralysis.  A draw, then?  

The sudden altitude shift has caused your passenger to re-secure its position atop your cranium with all available attachment options, with the tail now being wrapped around your neck.  But at least you can see.  It occurs to you that you don't have to be doing this and that you outweigh the monkey by a factor of a thousand.  Maybe a million.  Math isn't your strong suit.  One thing you do know is one grab and fling of your arm and this would be over with.  You could probably be home and in a nice warm shower within the hour.  Then a tiny little face lowers itself down over your eyes and looks at you.  "Eep?" It asks in a little voice.  And you make the deadly mistake of looking it in the eyes.  There is real fright there.  And confusion.  It really is just a baby.  It doesn't mean to be stabbing you with multiple implements of torture, causing you pain that will probably keep you up at nights for the next week.  It just is.  You sigh and pull yourself up.

Several millennia later, you reach the . . . well, "shore" doesn't really work when you're talking about a swamp, so we'll say more solid sludge, and you shake off the excess ick from your legs.  Little monkey has once again calmed down and has returned to adding its own sound track to your journey.  Your progress on to solidity causes it to take notice of its surroundings and it spots a tree not far away with ripe fruit.  Without a backward glance, it springs from your head, taking great care to anchor itself securely to your hair follicles before leaping.  You watch it bound away, trailing significant locks of your hair as it goes.  In another moment, it is sitting up in a branch bouncing happily and munching fruit.  You walk over to it and look up.

What are you expecting?  Well, you don't know.  It's a swamp monkey, after all.  They don't talk, so it's not going to sing weeping praises of your bravery in saving it.  They don't shop at Godiva, so you can be pretty certain not to expect a thank you gift.  And if it could write, you're quite certain any thank you note it might send would be written in an "ink" you would not prefer.  But something, dang it.  That little beast literally drew blood from your body and used you as a ferry.  Ok, yes, you offered yourself as a ferry because it was tiny and small and scared.  You sigh and look up once more at it.  It blows a raspberry at you.  You give it a frown and move to turn.  But just before you do, it leaps down from the branch, wraps its little arms around you and smooshes its little face into your cheek.  You pat it on its little head and then it hops back up into the tree.  A warm happy feeling floods your being and you know for a moment what joy is.  You smile and turn away, feeling the depth of happiness all humans feel when they know they have done good.  Your chest still feels warm and you wonder at the lingering emotion.  You look down.  The swamp monkey has crapped on you.

And that, my friends, is life with a middle schooler.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

CIA Interrogation Techniques and Other Helpful Study Tips

Having just successfully booted yet another of my offspring out o' the house, I feel a need to do a series of posts about parenting boys through teens and into early adult years.  THIS however, would not just be a series of posts or even an entire book, but an entire ENCYCLOPEDIA series worth of posts.  So I'm gunna have to break it down a bit.

Part 1: Mangled Speech

Everyone loves how two and three year-olds wrestle with the truly complex task of verbal communication.  Think about it-- we expect our toddlers to accomplish in a few years what literally billions of years of evolution and development in the non-human animal kingdom has yet to accomplish.  Yes, yes, I know whales have complex communication systems and apes have learned ASL, but I'm saving my respect for the beastie or birdie that can tell decent Knock Knock joke.  So it's easily to be expected that a creature who has yet to manage not messing their pants might come up with beauties like "motowheezer" (lawn mower) or "wedgewant" (restaurant). 

When the confused conversicant is, however, of a double digit age, the mangling of words takes on an entirely new delightfulness.  It's generally not a massive mispronunciation of a few phonetic combinations or an added syllable, but a compete replacement of a word or phrase for one that is *almost* a synonym. But not.  

I give you "Driving To School Friday Morning."

My standard issue Mom Van is in the shop for a myriad of problems, all necessary for legal vehicle operation, none life-threatening.  Sadly.  (Except I really like not having a car payment and, as I said, it runs fine.  It just doesn't have a passenger side head light that can stay functional for more than two days or a passenger side brake like that works.  Not really decent excuses to buy a new car.  Dang it.) For this reason, we are taking the Kid Car to do morning school drop offs.  Kid Car has most recently been captained by the child who has just been booted out the door.  Owing to previous bootees not getting a car Freshman year of college, this Bootee was sent similarly un-vehicled on his way to pursue a higher education. This is not to say that said offspring took the time to clean up the Kid Car before handing it down to the next offspring.  Indeed, no, it appeared that Recent Bootee did all he could to turn the Kid Car into a full-fledged Rolling Landfill for the Future Bootee who will obtain his Learner's Permit next month.  Negotiations are being attempted at acquiring a less disgusting Kid Car.  These negotiations will fail.

Thus we were all performing our own separate archeological expeditions as we attempted to find the purported seats with which the Kid Car was said to have been equipped.  They were duly found, the worst of the garbage was lassoed and corralled into the trash can, (If you think vocabulary choices implying the trash was both alive and also moving vigorously enough on its own to require active collection are incorrect, you clearly do not have teens who drive.) and seats were taken.  As we made our way to the high school for the first drop off, further excavations were made of the items which had not immediately fallen out of the car when the doors were opened.

There was, on the dashboard, a full water bottle with a pencil in it.  It had been there all summer. I had seen it every time I had walked by the Kid Car on the way to the mailbox.  I cringed every time I saw it and told myself to unlock the car and remove the nasty looking water bottle.  Sadly, the lengthy journey across the driveway was much too long for my brain to remember a one-item to-do list and thus the Water Bottle au Pencil remained.  

As we were driving, we could not immediately throw it away.  It was therefore duly inspected.  The winner of Shot Gun gave it a look before the Back Seat claimed it.

"What the heck?"  A reasonable question.

"I have no idea, ask Jacob." I answer.

And thus the Back Seat snapped a pic of the item and sent it to his older brother via the marvel that is modern digital communication.  I expected either no answer or  something rude in response.

I was happily incorrect.

"It's a science experiment!" Back Seat exclaimed.


"Ya, he wants to see how long it takes for the pencil to completely dissolve.  Or if it even will dissolve."

Huh.  Well, I now understand why it was on the dash board where heat and sunlight could work most effectively.  I am impressed.  Still a bit grossed out, but definitely aglow in the renewed awareness that my child is not just the collection of bodily functions and hormones he appears to be.  Granted, it still falls in the category of "Let's see if we can make this gross thing happen" that fuels most all teen boy action, but still.  There does appear to be a brain in there.

Then Shot Gun asks, "So he's just water boarding a pencil."


"What?" I ask.

"He's water boarding a pencil.  You know, just seeing how much water he can get the pencil to soak up."  He says, with an air of "duh, Mom."

(Second Pause.)

"Water LOG.  He's water logging a pencil."

"Same thing."

Almost . . . but . . . no.  I am intrigued, however, by the idea of water boarding a pencil.  I can see it now . . . .

A group of frantic high school juniors are gathered in a dark basement, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling.  Their eyes are blood shot from hours spent poring over Wikipedia pages and Spark Notes summaries.  Their hands are shaking from a week-long diet of Doritos and Monster drinks.  They are wearing smelly, wrinkled clothing because they have been up for two days straight, trying to cram an entire semester into 36 hours.  They are desperate and it has come to this.

In the midst of their frenetic, anxious circle is a table.  On that table is a popsicle stick held up by a couple of bent 3x5 cards pulled from an old Spanish vocab flash card set.  A Ticonderoga #2, dull and battered, is strapped to the popsicle stick with a frayed hair tie pulled from a pseudo man-bun one of the juniors has been trying to grow all year.

A female junior leans closer, her mouth open and her breath coming in short, ragged gasps.  A drop of sweat rolls down her temple as she pushes her glasses back up her nose.  She holds up a pipette, purloined from the AP Chemistry classroom.  It is full of water and her finger holds one end, stopping the fluid from rushing forth.

"You can see we're serious," her voice wavers.  "We KNOW you have the data we need."

"Do it now!" A short, plump student growls.  "Enough questions!"  She lifts in her inhaler and takes a sharp puff.

"But we don't have the information yet," another student wails, wringing his hands.  "I only have three pages done!  I NEED 800 MORE WORDS!!"  He pulls at his hair and grimaces with brace-adorned teeth.

"Calm down!" The pipette-wielder yells.  "Our friend Ticonderoga is smart," she continues in a calmer voice.  

The pencil says nothing.

"It knows tomorrow is the last day of the semester."  A tic starts to pulse under the student's left eye.  

Silence continues.

She raises her hand.  "It knows we are desperate and out of time."  

The pencil continues mute.

Her hand begins to shake.  "It knows WE know all good pencils have the secret of the Perfect Essay imbedded in their cores."  

There is no answer.

Her finger tenses.  "It WILL give us the correct answers for our scan trons!"

And she lifts her finger.

We'll be sure to let you know if the pencil gives up the goods.  Or dissolves.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

In Defense of the Mommy Hiking Sandals

As many of you may be aware, I recently went on a hike that left me . . . Wanting. Wanting better hiking shoes, a less dusty trail, more shade, less weight on my feet, and fewer years under my belt. And definitely fewer bees and Bionic Blind Women. (See "Today I Became An Old Woman" if you are either confused or intrigued. Or both.) It could have been very easy to blame the whole situation on my footwear, but the truth of the matter is that I could have been wearing custom-made trekkers from Ecco and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference. That trail kicked my trash.

Yet, I still feel I owe it to my awesome and super comfortable hiking sandals (yes, HIKING, even though they do have a teensy-weensy bit of heel to them) to demonstrate how adequate they are for the casual hike (a REAL casual hike, not the trail of torture the last hike proved to be). And so I proudly donned them as we set out to hike up Diamond Head.

For those of you unfamiliar with this hike, here are the spec's: it is a 1.6 mile loop, with a 560 foot elevation gain. In real words, this hike goes straight up hill for almost a mile then straight back down, via switchbacks ala Lombard Street. So it's short, but it's kind of a killer. There are about 374 steps to climb over two stretches. I am not making that up. (But I am using creative liberty.) And it's Hawaii, with no shade, but a decent breeze. So, hot and muggy, but some decent air movement.

Here's how it went down. I. Did. Not. Quit. Ta-Da!! Did my son and his friends stop a couple times to make sure I hadn't fallen off the hillside? Sure. Was I sweating like I'd sprung a leak through every square inch of my skin? You betcha. Did more than one (read: FOUR) hiker in a row look at me with concern and assure me I was "almost there!"? Indeed they did. But I made it! And guess what? So did my sandals. Thus I repeat, TA-DA!!

They did a great job. Portions of this hike are, in fact, paved. But most of it is not. Most of it is the rock hillside, carved or blasted or simply worn down, formed into a trail of sorts. It is anything but level and there are loose rocks everywhere. And my sandals handled all of it. Even the wretched staircases that went on forever. I mean really, how hard would it have been to add a couple "viewing platforms," even without any actual view to, um, view? It's not like I'm asking for an elevator, sheesh.

Yep, totally happy with my Mommy Hiking Sandals. And we have no need to mention the dozens of tiny little Japanese women who also hiked it successfully in every sort of non-hiking footwear including zipper-back gladiator sandals, strappy kitten heels, fur-lined bedroom slippers, or 3" bedazzled wedges while wearing a georgette dress and carrying a parasol. (You think I'm kidding. I have pictures.) Me and my sandals made it and that's all that matters.

(But seriously, I'd be willing to be you could get to the top of Mount Friggin' Everest and be all ready to pat yourself on the back for accomplishing one of the most challenging efforts humankind can make and there would be a pack of little Japanese women up at the top, in their kitten heels and sparkly flip flops, smiling and waving and wondering what all the fuss was about. Those women can do anything. And accessorize at the same time. Bring a brownie, dang it.)

All Hail The Spoon

As I wander through my 29th year (again), I pause and wonder (again) about the beauty of re-learning things I have previously learned.  I like to look at it this way rather than thinking of it as "crap I should have remembered the first eight times I learned it."  You know the sort -- "I'll definitely remember this particular spot where I am placing my reading glasses."  (No, you won't.). "I can hop right down off of this chair I've been standing on to fix a wall hanging."  (Only if you want to limp for a week.) And my all time favorite, "Eating a full hamburger, fries, and shake meal is a great American summer classic activity and will be perfectly fine just this once." (Seriously?  You couldn't even do this when you were teen without wanting to barf the rest of the day.)

There are some things that are a treat to re-learn, despite the posted evidence.  I recently had the opportunity to become reacquainted with one of the most useful gadgets of all time.  This item has always been in my arsenal of basic go-to tools, and in fact I have several in varying sizes, shapes, and materials.  I am referring to the great classic Wooden Spoon.

Here's how this awareness came about.  I was fortunate enough to go on a classic tropical vacation recently.  I had been looking forward to it (possibly unhealthily so) for several months.  I positively NEEDED to relax by a pool and think about nothing except whether I should have lunch now or in an hour.  Or both.  Finally vacation time came.  I was pretty sure someone had altered the space-time continuum to make sure an entire extra year of waiting got squeezed in between the weeks leading up to departure.  (But only into my Perceived Waiting Time.  My Actual Useful Time seemed to have been reciprocally shortened, leaving me scrambling to get everything necessary done before I could commence poolside daydreaming.  I believe scientists refer to this as the Theory of Relative Stress.  The equation looks something like PWT/AUT= Rainbow Circle of Death.

Anyway, finally I found myself on a lovely beach with nothing to do but hold down my beach towel and read my book.  I had dutifully applied sunscreen to any place that was easy to reach, and I figured 1) we wouldn't be there too long anyway 2) clouds were passing often enough and 3) I was pretty tan after summer activities as it was.  It will surprise absolutely no one to learn I absolutely fried the middle of my back due to being not "easy to reach" and me being "too stinkin' lazy." (I am quoting myself both times.) Initially, I knew I had a sunburn, but I was holding out hope it wouldn't be too bad.  But by bed time, I knew I was toast.  Literally.

Yep, that next morning, I could see by effort of craning my neck that I was an unpromising shade of red right through the middle of my back.  So now I had a dilemma.  I wasn't on vacation alone, I was with one of my sons and his two buddies for their senior trip.  Dealing with the location of this burn left me with something of a puzzle.  I wasn't adverse to having my son help apply sunscreen whilst I was wearing a swimsuit, but having him help me at other times was a bit awkward.  How to get that dang aloe evenly applied on my own after exiting the shower? Squirt it on a towel first and then rub the towel on my back?  That sounded like a new form of torture.  Spread it on a wall and then rub up against the wall?  Could be messy.  And expensive when the hotel ended up having to re-wallpaper the bathroom.  Probably not a good idea.  No, I needed a tool that could reach my back easily and apply whatever first aid I currently stood in need of.

So I roamed up and down the aisles of the little grocery store, ("Foodland.  Where I buy all my food.  And all my land."  Bonus points for identifying the mangled quote) trying to figure out what doodad would be my salvation.  And there, in the kitchen tools section, was my answer.  The standard, cheap, wooden spoon.  Long handle, nice smooth back to the spoon portion, and $2.  It was perfect.  And thus I spent the next three days, happily, if a bit wince-ingly, applying multiple layers of aloe and after sun lotions.  

The beginning of the third day proved to me yet again how helpful this classic implement truly is.  The itchy stage began.  The so-itchy-you-wish-you-were-Wolverine-so-you-could-pop-those-bad-boys-out-of-your-knuckles-and-get-some-serious-scratching-done stage.  The I-Am-Truly-Going-To-Lose-It stage.  Like all bad experiences, I had blocked this part of sun burn healing from my memory.  But the moment I felt the first crunchy twinge between my shoulder blades, it all came screaming back.  Once again, the spoon came to my rescue.  That lovely, long handle reached every scratchy spot.  Is there anything more satisfying than actually being able to scratch a spot that's been driving you nuts?  Especially when that one spot is, in fact, your entire back?  Ahh, thank you Wooden Spoon.

And as I thought happy, friendly thoughts about my wooden spoon, I recalled all the other terrific uses it has: 

When one's offspring has outgrown one's self and one's arm's reach, the Wooden Spoon is particularly effective at delivering smacks upside the head when said offspring thinks he is safely out of reach.  

When one is slightly below average height for a female human and one's kitchen cabinets are set at a height convenient for NBA players, Wooden Spoon comes once again to the rescue in the acquisition of pots and pans on the top shelves.  (This would once again prove the need for relearning patently obvious things.  I recently neglected to use the Wooden Spoon as I was attempting to put away my cast iron Dutch oven on a top shelf, apparently thinking I had Go-Go Gadget arms.  I do not.  I now have a new stove and a mild concussion.  All for want of using the Wooden Spoon.) 

Wooden Spoons have been critical in the rescue of lost favorite shirts behind the washing machine, in the manufacture of Cub Scout bows (needed an arrow to test the string's pull), and as a makeshift splint for "broken" wrists.  (It always amazes me how "broken" bones and "impending death" always seem to spontaneously resolve when chore/nap/bed time ends.  It could do our national healthcare system a world of good if we employed an army of gray-haired women to bake cookies in Emergency Departments or ICUs and have them declare "Yay, we're all done with chores!  Let's have cookies!" Every 45 minutes or so.  Think about all that miraculous curing.  It's a crime we haven't implemented this already.)

A Wooden Spoon is the perfect tool for testing the correct consistency for brioche dough (just enough flour to make a wooden spoon stand up), pulling an oven wire rack out of a hot oven when all of the oven mitts are AWOL, and reaching under the couch to get the remote.  (Unless you have the standard carnivorous couch that eats remotes and half of earring sets.  Then no spoon in the world can help you.  Sorry.)

And in a pinch, you could always stir some soup with it.  But wash the sunscreen off first.  All Hail The Wooden Spoon!