Clarissa Johal: 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bored Games

Board games.
A rite of passage wherein the parent comes to the realization that their beloved toddler has moved beyond the phase of popping game pieces into their mouths to experience new texture and flavor sensations. It is a portion of the parent’s life wherein their company is required, coveted in fact, and so they begin a road of logging in countless hours of game play. Of making it to King Kandy’s Castle and not getting stuck on a gumdrop in Candyland, of climbing ladders and not falling down a chute in Chutes and Ladders, and of becoming a Pretty, Pretty Princess by stealing everyone else’s jewelry.
Later, that said parent will graduate onto games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Battleship and Life. Buying hotels (if the game progresses that far), making up words to maximize points, sinking battleships, and beating your children in the game of Life (don’t ponder on that one for too long).
Beyond that, the parent’s participation is no longer required.
The board games are replaced by more sophisticated playmates; Xbox, Wii and Nintendo, which require no other human interaction at all, save for the occasional “Wow, top score? That’s great honey.”
Beyond that…well, lets just say I haven’t experienced that yet.
So, let’s back up a bit. Board games.
When my first child stopped showing an interest in how things tasted and started becoming interested in how they worked, we ran out and bought our first “family” board games. I was so excited to purchase Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, I could hardly wait to set them up and start playing. Now things were going to get interesting!
It is a simple game with simple rules, and consequently, after playing it several times…the mind begins to wander. I found myself pondering on the child named Lolly and creatures depicted on the board, and the fact that they looked rather psychotic. (Most likely, I reasoned, it was because they lived in Candyland and probably didn’t eat their vegetables.) But why would Lord Licorice look so evil? Was he planning the overthrow of the Candy Kingdom? And why did Gumdrop look like a dinosaur? Was he a dinosaur gumdrop? And what about Gramma Nut? A creepy lady with a doggie basket, she kind of reminded me of the witch from Hansel and Gretel. I wanted to yell, “Run home, Lolly! These people are not your friends! They will lead you down a path of cavities and weight issues for the rest of your life!”
But, to children, this game is a goldmine of giggles and hours of entertainment. And after playing as much of this game as I could stand, I would find myself skillfully leading my daughter onto other things.
Yes, I’ll admit it. After logging in an hour or so of Candyland, in spite of how happy it made my 3-year-old, I needed a change of pace.
Onto Chutes and Ladders. Called Snakes and Ladders when I was a kid, why they changed the name, I’ll never know. Maybe a parent complained the snakes were giving their child nightmares. Or, maybe Herpetologists complained that it led children to believe that sliding down snakes like ropes was an acceptable thing to do, which we all know, isn’t.
Snakes aside, my child was always quite sad that the little boy on square 24 had apparently bumped his head falling down the chute, and the little boy on square 60 had broken his arm riding his bicycle. (Let that be a lesson to all you kids—bicycles are not for riding.) But, I would remind her, the little boy on square 36 got to climb up the ladder because he ate his vegetables, and the little girl on square 49 slid all the way down to square 11 because she ate too many cookies and got a tummy ache.
Now that’s some good and sneaky parenting propaganda. Remind me to write Milton Bradley and thank them for that.
These types of games breed like rabbits. Our game closet was soon spilling with games such as; Pretty, Pretty Princess, (a great game that encourages girls to steal and fight over each others jewelry), Trouble (I want to smash that Pop-O-Matic bubble sometimes for never rolling 6’s), Hullabaloo and Mousetrap. These board games stick around for years. All the way through the ages of 3 to 6-years-old, if I recall.
So get used to them. Love them, make up stories in your head as you gaze, bleary-eyed, at the techno-color illustrations on the boards or hop around like a ninny as the Hullabaloo guy tells you to; “Do the funky-monkey dance!”
But, take heart, for after the simplistic board games deemed for ages 3-6 years old, there comes a developmental leap that is quite exciting. Games for 7-years and older.
The first time my children asked for the game of Monopoly, I about let out a whoop of joy. Now here was a game I had longed for as a kid! I never got it—but I wanted it more than anything. I couldn’t purchase it fast enough.
The day that my children and I played Monopoly, we played, and played, and played…into the wee hours of the night.
Because the game…doesn’t…end.
Nobody wins, and nobody loses. It just goes on forever. If you even get to the point where you can start buying hotels, you are doomed. Once your child lands on your hotel and cannot come up with the money to pay you—the rules of the game will need to be altered. Who wants to take all of their child’s hard-earned money and leave them destitute? Not me. So, the rules must be morphed into slightly “new rules.” The player can pay you what they can, or owe you, but they cannot go out. Because going out, of course, is not fair.
And to a kid, life has to be fair.
A better and more sensible game is Scrabble. If your child can spell.
When we started playing this game, mine couldn’t quite spell. The game was relegated to me peeking at their letters and helping them come up with something other than “poop” or “butt.” Basically, it was a game wherein I played against myself. I like to think it helped them with their spelling and vocabulary in some abstract kind of way that doesn’t involve four-letter words, but only time will tell.
Battleship was another good game. The one snafu however, is how odd it was that my child’s ships seemed to teleport around on the board. Maybe there is a Bermuda Triangle within the plastic, I’m not sure, but I swear that I would never manage to track down my 7-year-olds ships and sink them.
Enjoy the board games while they last. If you are a parent, you will come to the realization that a good portion of board game parenting is a delicate balance of the good and the bad.
The bad? Realizing why your parents made the decisions about your leisure time that they did. And then sticking your fingers in your ears and denying that you have become like your parents and are making the same, unpopular decisions for your own children. The good? Re-living your childhood. In all it’s wacky, rolling, counting, rule-bending glory.
Remind me to thank my parents for the hours of these bored, um, I mean board games they played with me before coming up with an excuse to go do…something else.
We have almost grown out of these board games, sadly enough. There are a few that linger. Charades, ThinkBlot, Scattagories. My children have now moved onto an array of Xbox, Wii and Nintendo DS games. I’ve tried some of their games on the Xbox and the Wii, mostly so I don’t get labeled the “un-cool” mom. They mystify me, however, in that the social interaction sometimes is truly lacking. Do I long for the days of endless hours of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders? Not really. I know my children’s brains are becoming more complex and that is reflected in their leisure time. And rejecting electronic leisure is, in my opinion, not accepting the fact that technology has become an ingrained part of my children’s world. I do manage to slip some social interaction in when my children want to plug themselves into an XBox or Wii game. They'll thank me for it later when they realize they are capable of a normal conversation that doesn't involve phrases such as, "high score" and, "what level did you get to?" It is a delicate balance and I try to be fair.
I must say, however, that if my children ever ask for the Wii version of Monopoly (oh yeah, there is one) I will be nixing it. We have a perfectly good version of Monopoly in a box, in our game closet. They may go fetch it and I will be happy to play it with them.
We may even finish the game someday.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Magazines and Other Fashion Things

I love fashion magazines. They take up the smallest portion of your brain to thumb through and less than that to read the articles. Plus, the colorful pictures and digitally stretched and enhanced models are just so pretty to look at. However, there is one thing that bothers me about these magazines. The section wherein the reader is subjected to; “What Women Should be Wearing in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s!" drives me crazy. In some enlightened magazines (that realize older women in their 60's and 70's do not run around naked) they will deem to include these age groups in their fashion advice.
You mean women aren’t relegated to wearing burlap sacks when they're turned out in the pasture at 60-years-old?
Good to know…
So, it’s not that I mind the fact that the magazine is attempting to dictate to the public what the latest fashion trend is. After all, I spent my $5 to be told as much. I just hate that once you reach the age group of “women in their 40’s,” automatically, it is assumed that; 1) you will be revisiting the age of Dynasty and covet huge and severe-looking shoulder pads, 2) beige, gray and (ick) tweed, become your best color choices, 3) everything needs to be paired with black or brown alligator or snakeskin high-heels, and, 4) draping your body in gaudy, gold jewelry or layers of gold chains is the thing to do.
At 45-years-old, my shoulders are not quite stooped enough to need shoulder pads, I’m fighting the gray at my temples and have no need for that color in my wardrobe, alligator and snakeskin look best on, oh, I don’t know…alligators and snakes.
And that much gold jewelry is going to make me look like I need to be committed into the nearest asylum. Or look like Mr. T...if you remember who he is.
Now, let’s examine what women in their 20’s get to wear.
Cute, trendy dresses in bright colors such as; apple green, pumpkin orange, rose pink and cardinal red. Plastic, chunky jewelry in a rainbow of colors and shapes. And shoes in an array of styles; heels, flats, boots…with not an alligator or snake in sight.
Yep, those gals in their 20’s get to wear all the good stuff.
Women in their 30’s? Same thing…sort of. But you can sense that they are already starting that downward slide that lands them into the fashion dustbin filled with the 40-year-olds.
Now, once women hit their 50’s and 60’s…there, the fun begins. Apparently, if you’ve made it to those venerable ages, you get to wear whatever the hell you want. Cute, little, A-line Mod dresses in all colors imaginable? The green light is on. Long, gothic-inspired skirts with flouncey or fitted tops? You go right ahead, sister. The world of fashion is your oyster, because you have earned it. We, the fashion police, have given you license to wear anything and everything. You have our blessing.
Or, maybe women at this age won’t stand to be fashionably boxed-in and told what to wear.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all fashions were available for every age (and size) of women out there? Personally, I hate being shuttled over to the “Women’s” section of the department store. Quite frankly, the styles of clothing there just makes my skin crawl. Give me the fun and colorful fashions of youth…in a size 8, thank you very much.
But, no. The cute fashions are sequestered in the Misses section, far, far away from the dreary Women’s section of the department store. And, to add insult to injury, the Misses section clothing sadly stops at size 6 which, (and I have actually held the clothing up to clothing that my 9-year-old daughter wears) the only variation between it and a kids size 8, is that the Misses size 6 is slightly wider in the shoulders.
It’s a crying shame.
So, I will continue to buy the fashion magazines. And I will continue to rage against being fashionably boxed-in and laid to rest at 45-years-old.
I will skip that section completely.
Perhaps once I turn 50, I can have some real fashion fun.
Or perhaps I will continue to troll the Misses section in the hopes that one day; everything they have will be available in my size.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pirate Squirrels

I love animals. I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years and would do anything and everything for an animal in need. Just ask my family. They share their house with no less than three cats, two dogs, two turtles, two mice and eight tanks of fish. It's quite a menagerie.
However, the squirrels in my backyard are not part of my brood. They are probably the most pirate-like, crafty, little tree-rats I've ever seen. Lately, they've taken to draining my hummingbird feeders of all the sugar water.
I hope they get cavities.
Anyways, today I caught one chewing on a poisonous ant bait trap, of all things. I have no idea where he got it from, but thinking of his welfare, I immediately ran outside to stop him. Oddly enough, the thing hightailed it off my deck and up the nearest tree.
So, there I stood, heart pounding and visions of convulsing, dying squirrels in my head. Frantically, I started tossing sticks at it, hoping to scare it into dropping the ant bait. Nothing. I yelled at it, explaining that it was making a huge, life-altering mistake. Still nothing. The thing continued to chew away on the ant bait like the stubborn, little tree-rat he was.
In a fit of despair, and because I couldn't have a death on my conscience, I kicked off my shoes and climbed up the tree.
My one thought; "What dumb squirrel eats ant bait?"
Oh yeah, mine do.
Cursing like a sailor, I managed to climb half-way up before I realized:
1) I had my lacy and expensive black skirt on which was now, 2) stuck on a tree branch behind me and fluttering in the breeze.
On top of that, (or under it) I was now panty-flashing my neighbors who were having a civilized BBQ with about five of their closest friends.
All were looking up at me with either amusement or shock--I couldn't tell which, because suddenly everything was much too bright.
Meanwhile, the squirrel had nimbly jumped to the next tree--ant bait still clutched in his ratty little paws.
I stared up at the pale, blue sky, wondering what the weather was like somewhere else, and casually reached behind me to tug my skirt to a more acceptable level. Climbing down with my remaining dignity, I silently reprimanded myself for thinking the worst squirrel hating thoughts you can imagine.
The battle rages on....

The Ripple Effect

A friend of mine is a social worker. She was recently worrying that what she did for a living was related to her ego rather than a genuine desire to help people. Yes, before you shake your head, I too, say, "If it's ego,then so be it. You are doing so much more than 99% of the population of the world!"
It takes a very special person to dedicate their lives to helping others. And really, the rest of us could do a little of the same. Sharing the milk of human kindness with this ailing world would make the drink go so much further. My response to her thoughts was that the world operates on a ripple effect. There are "good" ripples, and there are "bad" ones. Any good ripple is valuable, regardless where within yourself it comes from.
Here's what I tell my kids, and bear with me, because it is extreme to illustrate a point.
Let's say you are on the playground and there is another child there that looks a little dirty, acts a little unacceptable, and generally isn't someone you would walk up to and play with. And, let's say, that child decides, through some twist of fate, to come over and ask you to play. What do you do?
Of course, my girls, being the lovely children they are, decide that they would both run away screaming.
So, let's go with that.
You run away screaming. The child, unfortunately, assumes that he is unworthy of playing with and his self-esteem sinks even lower than it started at that morning. Never mind that his mother's washing machine broke earlier that week, which explains the dirty clothes. And never mind that the stress at the child's home has been high that week because the father has lost his job due to the economy and can't provide for his family. The child has come to the playground that morning to escape the fact that his parents are, at that very moment, arguing at home and contemplating a divorce.
This would be, the pre-ripple effect.
So, back to my kids running away screaming.
The child has come to the unfortunate conclusion that he is unworthy of playing with. Tiring of playing alone, he decides to go back home. Unfortunately again, he walks in on the argument his parents are having and it has turned ugly. The parents, embarrassed by their behavior, turn their stress on their child and compound the child's feelings of unworthiness.
And it goes downhill from there.
The "bad" ripple effect. Everybody loses.
Here's another scenario.
My lovely children, playing at the playground, see another child there that looks a little dirty, acts a little unacceptable, and generally isn't someone they would play with. And, through some twist of fate, they decide to go over and ask him to play.
If only because there happens to be no other children at the playground that day and my children don't wish to play with just each other.
Or perhaps, because it is what my children should do.
In a perfect world.
The child is able to escape, if only for an hour, from the stress at home. Which has been caused by the father losing his job and inability to provide for his family. Which has been compounded by the washing machine breaking and the mother's inability to clean her family's clothes.
The child is able to have fun and be a child. If only for an hour. And at little cost to my children.
The child's self-esteem inches up a fraction. He goes home and is able to completely miss the argument his parents have had, and were eventually able to talk out.
Things go up from there.
The "good" ripple effect. This may be an extreme example.
Or not.
Every little thing you do affects something. Every ant you step on, every disapproving look you give to your kids, every telephone call or email you don't return, every "white lie" you tell, every smile you don't give, every stray you don't take in, every favor you opt out of, every child you ignore, and every "hand up" you choose not to offer.
I hope my children will realize that any little "good" thing they choose to do, is valuable.
And I hope my social worker friend does too.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The "New" Kid Food Pyramid

My mom was a health nut. Growing up in the 70’s only fueled her fire to subject myself, her only child, and my step-father to her nutty, crunchy ways. Many times we found ourselves eating questionable food—we knew it was healthy, but we were never quite sure what was in it. Combined with the fact that I also grew up in a household that was forever pinching pennies, there was never the option of not finishing my dinner or being picky to any degree. Casserole? Who knew what leftovers were lurking in it? We ate it all. Meatloaf? We ate that too, even when she was going through her soy nut-loaf phase. Sunflower seeds, homemade bread, barley soup? Those were always in my school lunches; shelled and unsalted, crusty and burnt on the bottom, stinky and lumpy (but nutritious!) I ate it all. Penny pinching led my mom to make some very unpopular choices. When the ferries went on strike and we couldn’t get milk delivered to the island we lived on, we drank powdered milk for an entire three months out of necessity. After the ferries were able to bring the "real stuff" to our island, my mother decided that we had saved so much money drinking the powdered stuff, she would continue to purchase it.
And there is nothing that tastes more disgusting than powdered milk.
But, we drank it. Because we had no choice.
Fast-forward many years later to myself and my own two children.
Where did I go wrong?
We are all well-acquainted with the Food Pyramid set forth by the USDA. It is well-balanced, can be adjusted for different cultural groups and dietary needs, and looks sound and sane...on paper. There is even a separate Food Pyramid for children.
It is comprised of; 6 oz. of grains, 2-1/2 cups of vegetables, 1-1/2 cups of fruits, 3 cups of milk, and 5 oz. of meat or beans.
Let me pause for a moment because I cannot write and laugh at the same time.
Here is the Food Pyramid for children, as it exists in my household.
There is the “White Food” group. It is comprised of potatoes, rice, noodles and milk (not powdered) and includes bread, with the crusts cut off, and bagels with cream cheese. It is well received, coveted in fact, as long as you don’t try and put anything, I mean anything, upon or in the first three things. A serving size could range anywhere from several grains of rice to a spoonful of mashed potatoes or quite possibly a whole entire, small bagel with a smear of cream cheese.
There’s the “Fruit” group. No issues there as long as there is no white stuff left on the peeled oranges or bruises and other suspect color variables on the outside of the fruit and it’s skin. A serving size could be 20 blueberries or even a whole, entire banana...on a good day.
There is the “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” group. Without this group, most children would starve. As long as the jelly is grape. If there is a one inch by one inch cube missing from the very center of the sandwich, chances are, the sandwich is finished and can move onto the bird feeder outside.
There is the “Sugar and Other Yummy Things that Mom Won’t Let Us Have” group. Let your mind go wild with that one. Serving sizes vary according to how generous I'm feeling that day.
And then there’s the other one. The “Vegetable” group.
Oh yeah, those things.
Serving size: whatever you can sneak or suffer "The Look" through.
Once, in a fit of despair and self-righteousness, I chopped up broccoli and mixed it into my daughter’s peanut butter for her jelly and peanut butter sandwich.
It was not well-received.
I tell my children that because they do not willingly eat their vegetables, I am forced to hide them within my cooking.
Cooking. Ha. Let me digress a bit.
A definition of cooking is as follows. Cooking: to combine several single ingredients thus creating a new and complex dish that is both edible and palatable.
Not in my house.
Combining ingredients would mean that two or more things would be touching each other on the same plate and we all know, that would be breaking an unspeakable kid-law punishable by looks of disgust, screams of pain and torture, and retching. In other words, I don’t even try.
So, here is my letter to the USDA Food Pyramid people.

Dear Sirs or Madams Who Do Not Have Children of Your Own:

While the Food Pyramid undergoes revisions to include the Vegetarian Food Pyramid,the Mediterranean Food Pyramid, the Asian Food Pyramid and the Latin-American Food Pyramid, it appears that your Kids Food Pyramid may need some revisions as well. In order to keep parents everywhere sane and boost our crumbling egos, please revise your Kids Pyramids along these lines:

(Serving Suggestions will be omitted in order to better facilitate parental and child harmony.)
Thank you,
Clarissa Johal

Monday, June 15, 2009

Where Do Babies Come From?

December 21, 2006

My six-year-old daughter’s first grade teacher is pregnant. So consequently, my daughter has been coming home with a lot of questions.
Questions that her teacher had been avoiding quite adeptly.
The latest question was at 6:00AM in the morning.
My husband was conveniently taking a shower at the time and my darling came running top-speed into our bedroom asking how babies were made.
Being half-asleep and on autopilot, I replied with, "The sperm and egg meet in the mommy’s body and blah, blah, blah..." Basically, my mother’s explanation. The explanation which carefully avoided the semantics of sex; but explained in great detail the development of the fetus to the magical arrival of the baby.
However, my daughter, always full of questions impossible to dodge, replied with, “How does the sperm get inside the mommy’s body?”
"Ummm, the daddy puts it there." I was suddenly wide awake and realized that I had stuck my foot in it, big-time.
Long silence. “Can you give mommy a chance to wake up? It’s kinda early, honey.”
I lay there as I listened to her footsteps pattering away and swore I could hear my mom in my head…laughing and laughing.
A couple of days later, my persistent child asked the same question...again.
“So, how does the sperm get inside the mommy?”
Sigh. “I’ve ordered a book and I promise we will sit down and discuss it when the book arrives, okay?”
I know what you’re thinking at this point. And I swear I wasn’t really buying time hoping she’d move onto something else.
Not me.
Quite honestly, I had trolled around on the internet the day she had asked me the “Big Question” and had come up with a book called, It's So Amazing! A book about Eggs Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families by Robie H. Harris. Of course after I got it, I realized that it covered everything. I mean everything.
And all for ages 5 and up.
When my husband and I were expecting our first child 6 years ago, and before the reality of being parents had settled in, I swore that I would have an open-door policy talking about sex. Consequently, I reasoned, it would allow me to lay a great foundation with my children that would last throughout their teen-age years. However, oddly enough, I now felt this overwhelming desire to keep my 6-year-old innocent as long as possible and tell her the sperm was put into the mommy by the sperm fairy.
But she was asking me an honest question.
And the sperm fairy died in the 1950’s.
The evening I received the book, my heart was beating wildly and my mind was racing as I unwrapped it. I gave myself the, “you’re such a good mom” talk as I carefully leafed through the pages. I was going to end generations of ignorance! I was a child of the 70’s! Female liberation and empowerment was what it was all about!
But the sperm fairy would make a great story…
I sat down with my 6-year-old daughter the next day and we read the book from cover to cover. I only stumbled a couple of times on the v-word and the p-word but managed to not dissolve into an embarrassed fit of the giggles--and thankfully, her curiosity was abated.
For now.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


September 7, 2008

Our 8-year-old daughter has earned a dubious title in our family; Bug-Girl.
From the tender age of six, my little darling decided that she was going to grow up to be an entomologist and travel around the world collecting bugs.
I love bugs.
Actually, I really don’t.
But because I don’t want to be responsible for killing her dream, or her bugs, and sending her to therapy once she’s grown, I’ve allowed her to collect and observe a plethora of bugs in her bug jars. Fireflies, spiders, assassin bugs, flies, pill-bugs, assorted beetles, centipedes, dragonflies and walking sticks; they’ve all come to spend a night or two in an empty Prego jar. I always think twice before rummaging around in my daughter’s room for anything, because you just…never...know.
And it doesn’t just stop at the collecting and observing--we’ve saved crickets from a sure death in our turtle tank, hatched praying mantises, gone through the caterpillars-into-butterflies life-cycle, fed a spider “fresh-caught flies” (until it happily reproduced and laid about a million eggs) and have had the pleasure of owning a “space-age gel” ant-farm.
When I’m secretly squishing ants on the counters of our kitchen, the irony is not lost upon me that we’ve purchased ants for my daughter’s “space-age gel” ant-farm.
However, through it all, she has taught me to appreciate all forms of insects. I’ve been educated on what it looks like to see hundreds of baby mantises hatch and crawl all over their netted and enclosed home like little ticks. And, I must admit, seeing caterpillars turn themselves into the alien-like cocoons which burst magically in the blink of an eye into wet and crumpled butterflies is pretty darn exciting. Especially, if you are a fan of butterflies.
I personally, am not a fan of butterflies.
I would sooner go into a cage of lions, and have had the pleasure of doing so, rather than witness a butterfly with wings the size of dinner-plates, spastically fly towards my head.
But I suck it up like any mom…because I love my daughter.
So, it goes without saying that I am constantly looking for classes and books to enrich my daughters bug-loving knowledge and experience. And it also goes without saying, that when I saw in our Parks and Recreation booklet that they were having an all-day Eco-Adventure kayaking trip around the wetlands, "Sure to be filled with insects and wildlife! A hit with your budding insect and wildlife-loving eco-child!" I signed us up immediately--with no thought at all to the fact that…I don’t like bugs. Wildlife yes, bugs no.
My daughter was thrilled.
Sadly, the night before our adventure, it rained and rained. However, the weather forecast promised sun and warm temperatures by the next morning, so I proceeded to pack and prepare for 8 hours of hot sun and humid wetlands. I packed our sun-hats, our camera, our waterproof sun-block and mosquito repellent, an emergency medical kit and our most rugged and element-enduring clothing. I packed our lunch in waterproof containers. I was ready for anything.
Or so I thought.
True to the weather forecast, it was sunny and warm the next morning. In fact, it was 90 degrees of warm. However, it didn't seem hot in the wetlands at all. I think the fact that we were sitting in 2 inches of water all day, which had mysteriously pooled in the bottom of our kayak, made us feel much cooler.
And apparently, the heavy rain from the night before had flushed out many creatures we wouldn’t have normally had the gift of observing.
The neat thing if you should ever decide to participate in an Eco-Adventure trip; lots of wildlife. We saw beavers and beaver dams, egrets, vultures, frogs, flocks of birds; including Pileated woodpeckers, schools of beautiful fish, and the highlight—a bald eagle.
The not-so-neat things; bugs. Thousands of them.
Not the mosquitoes I thought there would be, I had prepared for that, but apparently after a hard rain, all the bugs in North Carolina were stranded in the trees around the wetlands and looking for "dry land."
In this case, “dry land” was our kayak.
There's nothing more nightmarish than being out in a kayak in the middle of a lake and seeing spiders the size of your hand scuttling across the water to dry-dock themselves in your boat. Followed by; hundreds of more spiders.
After realizing that it was impossible not to have spiders in our kayak, we got used to flicking them out of our boat as they came. And they came....and came...and came.
In addition to the spiders, every time we hit a tree trying to maneuver our kayak around the wetland area, hundreds of grasshoppers would rain down on our heads. And I won't even go into the leeches. Yes, leeches.
But, I was proud of myself. I didn't scream or jump into the lake and attempt to swim to shore like I wanted to. I didn’t tell my daughter she was crazy for thinking every spider and grasshopper would make an awesome and wonderful pet. I just endured. To be honest, I would do it again in a heartbeat to see my daughter as happy as she was. She didn’t stop smiling the whole time. It’s what you do when you’re a mom. I keep telling myself.
So this year, when the same trip came up once again, I bravely asked my Bug-Girl if she wanted to go.
Thankfully, she had, “done that, been there,” and didn’t.
No arguments here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Santa Claus...and other lies

December 26, 2006

Early this morning, my 5-year-old and I were sitting on the couch together, watching the fire crackle in the fireplace. We were the first up, as usual. Her Christmas present was that she'd been sick all week, struggling with a sinus infection and getting over conjunctivitis in both eyes. It's made for very short nights and even earlier mornings.
So, bleary eyed and congested, my little darling suddenly asked me...if Santa is real.
Now, I'm sure she's heard her sister and me discussing Santa and Christmas faeries; a traditional, but watered-down version handed down through generations of my family. Her 6-year-old sister knows (and has had no problem with the fact) that Santa is make-believe and Christmas faeries are a figment of her moms flighty, but “trying to keep the Scottish faith,” imagination.
My older daughter indulges me.
But, I guess I've never had a heart-to-heart with my youngest daughter about it. And, of course, this morning at 5AM and after dosing her up on sinus medication, saline nose spray, and eye drops...she chose to bring it up.
"Is Santa real?" she asked me again.
"Ummm…" I had about a thousand replies and couldn't seem to come up with one.
Her big, blue eyes started to fill with tears as she asked me again, "Is Santa real, mommy?"
Oh geez. On top of her lower lip getting all quivery, and her pinkish eyes welling up with tears, she was making herself all congested again.
Setting down my coffee, I gathered her in my arms and held her tight...and I lied.
Oh, the guilt.
I have made it a rule in my heart and home never to lie to my kids--even about the small stuff. So, it came out something like this;
"Do you think Santa is real?"
To which she nodded her head uncertainly.
"Well, if you think he's real, then he is." (Note to self, he's a spirit of...a feeling...historically, he was....blah, blah, blah. Shut up, head, you just lied to your child.)
"And he has a beard, mommy? And wears red pants?"
Oh boy, this was snowballing. "Ummm..."
My 5-year-old looked deep into my eyes and somehow, I just had this feeling she knew that I totally lied to her.
"Do you want to leave some cookies out, Santa, and thank him for all your presents you got on Christmas? We didn't do that, did we?"
"Okay, we'll do that tonight."
I sighed. When she turns 6-years-old, or whatever age, and discovers that there is no Santa, she's never going to trust me again.
Or maybe my older daughter will end up telling her when she wakes up this morning...

A Princess and Her Sword

March 19, 2006

Last night, my husband decided to have boy night. Most of his friends have gone on business trips so he decided to invite some new co-workers over. There was a visiting scientist from Thailand, another from Kenya, and another from some other place that had well-behaved children. Anyways, I guess you could say he wanted to make a good impression, new co-workers and all, because he was fussing about in the kitchen with the food for about an hour.
I decided to take the girls upstairs around 6:30 for their bath. Plus, I felt a responsibility to keep them from descending like locusts on my husband's painstakingly prepared food.
The girls were headed down the punchy-path already because they were tired and it was the end of the day. However, thankfully enough, bath time went without incident. I wrapped my children up in their fluffy towels, gave them a kiss on their damp, little heads, and told them to get into their PJ's.
As I drained the tub and rescued the toys, I could hear that my husband’s friends had arrived and I patted myself on the back for being so organized.
And, I patted myself again for having such well-behaved children.
As I was in my bedroom putting on my PJ's and robe, I heard yelling down the hall and opened my door to hear my 6-year-old screaming at the top of her lungs.
"No! Princesses do not carry swords!"
And my 4-year-old, equally as loud, "They do so carry swords! I say yes!"
I sighed, knowing this bliss was too good to be true, and started down the hall to break up the fight. Half-way down the hall, I was side-swiped by my 6-year-old, high-tailing it downstairs in her PJ's, still screaming at the top of her lungs.
"Princesses do not carry swords! Daddy!!"
And off she disappeared.
At the same time I ran downstairs to stop my lovely daughter from crashing my husband's boy party, my 4-year-old pushed past me, fuzzy "Wiggles" sword in hand, completely naked and screaming at the top of her lungs.
"Princesses do too carry swords! Waaaa! She said princesses don't carry swords, Daddy!!"
And skitching past my outstretched fingers, my darling 4-year-old ran screaming into the living room, waving her fuzzy, giggling sword over her head like some crazed, naked warrior.
At this point, I wondered if once I caught them, if anyone would notice if I used her fuzzy sword to smack them on both of their heads.
I continued into the living room, the faces of my husband’s co-workers a blur and acutely aware that I had stumbled into man-territory.
In my bathrobe.
With one child in her PJ's...and another in her birthday suit.
I grabbed each child, made my apologies, and dragged our screaming, tired banshees upstairs.
Being the wonderful man he is, my well-meaning husband started after me to help, but I waved him away.
"Got it under control, honey!" Yeah...right.
As I walked our girls back to their rooms, smile plastered on my face, I concentrated on the fact that this would all seem funny tomorrow morning. Yep.
Doggedly, my 6-year-old was still arguing her point. "No prince is going to marry you! Because princesses do not carry swords!"
"Well, I find a prince to marry me! I carry a sword!"
"Honey," I said to my eldest, "Princesses can carry swords."
"No, they can't."
"So if a dragon was swooping down to breathe fire on you, you're going to wait for a prince to save you? You're not going to pull out your sword and slay the dragon?"
"Umm, I'd wait for a prince to save me. Where's the prince? What's he doing?"
I started to reply with something clever like, getting his hair done or making cookies, but my 4-year-old beat me to it.
"He's marrying me! Because I carry a sword!"

That’s my girl.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In the Underwear Aisle

December 25, 2004

It was Christmas Eve, and I decided to nip off to Target to grab some last minute stocking stuffers. I made a completely practical "mom" decision and decided to get my girls...some underwear.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Underwear aisle; 10,000 choices, 10,000 sizes, styles and colors. I was overwhelmed by the colors and bright, shiny packaging. I started going for a package of "Care Bears," then realized my oldest was going on 5-years-old. Would she think that I thought she was a baby? Care Bears were kind of for little kids--and she was all grown up now at almost 5-years-old. Dora? No, she's sooo last year, Spongebob? No, my 3-year-old would be jealous, maybe I would get those for her. I put back the innocuous and smiling Care Bears and picked up a pack of "Bratz" undies.
My daughter’s fascination with them was purely because I thought they sent the wrong message to little girls. They smirked back at me from the underwear's plastic packaging, mocking me with their pouting lips and layers of blue eyeshadow. If I bought her these, would my daughter think I now condoned "Bratz" dolls? Would she grow up to wear too-tight jeans, cut-off shirts and too much makeup, parading a long line of Biffs and Jakes through my house? Would I wonder where I went wrong? Would she be so jazzed by her new Bratz undies that she'd want to show them off to all the kids in Kindergarten?
At this thought, I threw the pack of Bratz undies back on the shelf because I swore they had exploded into flames.
Unable to make a decision, my mind wandered and I started thinking about my almost 5-year-old beginning Kindergarten next year. And I proceeded to get completely choked up.
In the underwear aisle.
As I tried to get myself together, another mom walked by and without even looking, plucked a pack of underwear from the display and threw them into her cart.
"You okay?" she asked me.
"My little girl is starting Kindergarten next year and I can't decide on what underwear to get her," I managed to mumble.
She gave me a pat on the back, "It's gonna be okay, honey. They all gotta start sometime. Have a Merry Christmas."
I watched this other mom enviously as she meandered over to the boy's underwear aisle and plucked another pack (again, without even looking) off the display, tossing them into her cart.
She must just have too many kids to care.
So, back to my indecision. There were some cute undies with Scottie, she’d see the dogs and want a puppy, no good. Plus, they're bikini...bikini? Can 4-year-olds wear bikini underwear? My mom didn't let me get bikini underwear until I was 13, she said it would make my hips grow funny. I started to feel my face grow warm as I realized the ridiculousness of that. I'm going to defy my mother and get these bikini undies for my child! Okay wait...I wondered if they'd be comfortable for a 4-year-old? Maybe not.
Glancing at my watch, I saw that no less than 20 minutes had ticked by and I still hadn't made a decision.
Feeling like a loser, I decided that my almost 5-year-old probably wouldn't want boring underwear in her stocking anyways. What was I thinking? What a dumb idea.
Maybe some cool socks!
I turned around with a triumphant smile on my face...until I saw all the choices of socks on display.

My smile faded and I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown...

Mom e-mails

Sometimes I feel like my life is a string of hastily typed-out e-mails. My mom friends and I, for some oddly-conceived reason, find it much easier to send e-mails to each other as a way of keeping in touch about our daily lives, frustrations, successes and attempts to get together for random MNO (moms night out for those of you not in the know), rather than pick up that weird, outdated thing called a telephone. Not that we don’t call each other, because we do. However, the moment a mom’s hand touches the phone receiver, it sends out some sort of invisible signal to that mother’s child that the child is dying of starvation, thirst or some other life-threatening malady and they must be attended to—immediately. So, it isn’t uncommon to flick on my computer at 6AM in the morning to find an e-mail in my inbox from a stressed-out mom who spent the night in the ER with her child, who for some unforeseen reason, decided jumping jacks on the bed would be a fun activity. Once that mom opens her weary eyes in the late morning, peeks in at her child (who miraculously survived) and is able to open her e-mail; she will see the outpouring of support and sympathy from her friends and know she is loved. No invisible; “I’m about to pick up the phone” signal to contend with, no words wasted, just quick communication with those that love her. It’s a weird way to conduct friendships. However, I like to think of it as another layer of communication in this racing world of technology.
As I look over my sent e-mails, I see a collection of musings, stories and anecdotes that trace my “life as mom." It's a collection which I may print out and bequeath to my two daughters some day. A moment from their life as babies and toddlers all the way into their school years when they no longer need me as much. It is a time I am experiencing with a combination of acute, empty-nest sadness and a guilty feeling of freedom. I can write uninterrupted! I can walk the dogs without pausing to examine every dead worm that has dried out on the sidewalk! I can talk on the phone, do housework and go grocery shopping; all uninterrupted and with no thought to my children's tolerance for such mundane activities! It’s a feeling that fills me with happiness, freedom, and a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. It’s also a feeling of such intense loneliness that sometimes I find myself watching old video tapes of their favorite cartoons they liked when they were toddlers. However, I have to remind myself that my children are taking their place in the structure of the world and doing that inevitable thing that we’ve all been ambushed into without our permission—growing up.