Sunday, January 29, 2006

Brought to you by the letter 'O'

I have a tendency to ardently believe things that are not true. That’s the tricky part of logic and an even sketchier part of memory: the truth is hard to decipher when the picture you've painted in your head just keeps getting more vibrant as time goes by.

For instance, I am convinced that I saw Sid Vicious rocking out with Ernie and Bert on Sesame Street even though I know it’s utterly impossible. For seven years I believed that Tommy Chong died in a terrible car accident, and that was why Cheech Marin ended up on Nash Bridges with Don Johnson.

Sadly, this memory affliction goes beyond my recollections of network TV lineups to a time in which reminiscence is not humanly possible.

When I was 9 years old I asked my mother if there were Venetian blinds in the nursery of the hospital where I was born. When she told me there had been, I became thoroughly convinced I remembered crows standing on the ledge looking in at me. “They were there,” I argued, when she told me the memory wasn’t real. “I just didn’t know what they were called until much later.”

So when Ittybit toddles over to the stack of DVDs that I had spilled from atop the player, selects a powder blue disc devoid of any cartoon likenesses out of the hodgepodge of scattered children’s titles and exclaims: “Oh, that’s Elmo’s World,” my jaw drops open and I find myself wrestling with a new version of the truth.

I pull her close to me, suffocating her in a hug. This has to be a joke. I pick out another bland looking disc from the pile and wave it in the air, looking over my shoulder to make sure ventriloquism isn’t the cause of this new skill. “What’s this one?” I ask her. “Yoga,” she smiles, although her words sound more like "yo-ya."

Where’s the phone? Digging it out from under the couch cushions, I call my husband’s cell number. “Does this sound crazy? I think Ittybit can read,” I yell into the receiver, wondering all the while how the Babydoll learned this without constant intervention and pop quizzes and calculating how long we will be able to hide her from the government.

"That's nice, honey. Did the mail come?"

I wasn't ready for this grown up girl. I was still reeling from the recent shift away from being “Mama” to my new role as “Mommy,” when her new "reading" skills crept up on me.

This requires more investigation. I grab her up and whisk her into the kitchen and toward the alphabet magnets on the fridge. She starts to recite the letters on her own, picking up her favorites and separating them from the rest of the herd. A. B. C. E. I. T. … O.

It’s not as if I hadn’t noticed she’d shown preferences. She always stops her sing-song recitation on the letter P. She refuses to say Q. I can’t blame her, after “elemenopee” the fun kind of ebbs away.

Her aversion to the letter Q, I believe, is likely the result of my bringing the magnets with me to the doctors’ office on the occasion of her second-year checkup. All she wanted was her favorite letter -- “O” -- while the nurse was trying to take a blood sample, and O was the ONLY letter of the 26 that didn’t make it into the bag. In desperation, as her cries arced into a crescendo, I tried to substitute the letter Q by holding my thumb over the tail. She wouldn’t have it.

Already, our truths are colliding. And all I can hope for is that the O is somewhere in the car.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Honey, I think I’m bispousal

“Hey, do these jeans make my butt look big?”

I’m not sure whether he’s kidding. Just the other day I found my truck-driving, manly-man husband surfing the ’net looking for skin-care tips.

“No dear, you look perfect.”

For as long as I can remember I have subscribed to a commonly-held notion that women need wives. I advocate that women in the dating game should insist on courting only those men who possess a dash of culinary prowess and a liberal measure of kitchen skills. A good rule of thumb: If the object of your affection doesn’t know how to work the washing machine and isn’t willing to learn, it’s time to cut and run.

The idea, however, that sometimes men need husbands took me by surprise. Just as there is more to being a wife than housekeeping, there’s more to being a husband than carpentry. In my evolving glossary of terms I called this emerging marital understanding “bispousal.”

An adjective, bispousal describes a person who possesses emotional characteristics generally associated with a spouse of the opposite gender. My husband, you see, was acting bispousal when he complained that I had tracked in dirt after he had cleaned the floors. I, on the other hand, was acting bispousal when I didn’t remove my shoes immediately upon noticing the mop in his hand.

Need more proof? His bispousal tendencies are elevated when he makes a four-course meal that includes items that are stuffed, braised, broiled or deglazed. I show mine by cleaning the kitchen floor with the sink hose and a roll of paper towels.
There are so many ways in which I see role reversal in my marriage that I have even begun to counsel other women on how to deal with men as if I am one.

“It’s not that he doesn’t love you,” I say to my friend, who had just posed the primordial question: Why it is that once the marriage takes place the courtship fades? “It’s just a kind of an emotional laziness. He still thinks ‘Wow. I am so lucky to be with her. She is the light of my life,’ just not in those exact words. His vocabulary is limited to something more along the lines of an “Oh, Yeah!” and a few grunting sounds.

It sounds dismissive, I know, but I’m not really being critical. I think that if the emotionally giving one (whether they be a woman or man) understands that the emotionally distant one (be they man or woman) isn’t purposefully trying to undermine them, a lot of marital discord could be avoided.

As usual, though, in terms of counseling prowess, I am the pot calling the kettle names.

In our family, I am the one who lumbers up the stairs after the end of the workday grumbling, growling and praying that no one speaks to me until I decompress, which usually never happens until the weekend. My husband would love for me to share my day. He would love to have me sit at the counter while he cooks dinner and tells me about his. It takes the kind of effort that a person sitting in the dark with a beer and the television blaring just doesn’t have.

Of course this is also how I am sure my theories won’t be heading to a bookstore near you. Whole forests have been plundered already to provide pages for self-help manuals to tackle this very subject. And while I suppose I’ve heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, I’m fairly certain it’s not true. After all, I’m from Troy and he’s from Kennebunk; I don’t need a map to know that you can get there from here. But perhaps a few “yes, dears” now and again, along with an occasional “you look nice,” wouldn’t do any harm.

welder jed

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A life not imagined is a life unexamined

cloud 7
- Cloud #7

There are whole conversations I can’t have with people because our experiences are so far from shared that the light from shared would take 18 million years to get to us.
I mean, how many adults out there — during their dark and single days — just picked a person (real or imagined) and made a boyfriend or girlfriend out of them?

I’m not talking about flirting with strangers in the hopes of developing a relationship, nor am I describing outright stalking. I’m talking about “dating” a person without letting him or her know about it because it’s just EASIER that way.
I’m fairly certain that my hand would be the only freak flag flying were that question to be asked.

At the time, it just seemed to be the perfect way to have a relationship that was doomed to fail anyway. There are no fights, no misinterpretations and no decisions about which movie to see. And when it’s over there are no messy breakups or bad feelings, it’s just over.

Think of all the sadness that could be averted if we just THOUGHT about dating the transitional guy instead of ACTUALLY dating him. I suppose I’ve been looking for the easiest road to travel since I discovered life doesn’t come with a map. In my case, however, the easiest road is the one not traveled because it really doesn’t exist.

Careers are my latest flight of fancy. I’ve even developed a list of the 10 jobs (with no foreseeable future) I’d rather have.

For example, topping the list a few years ago was Cow Placement Expert.
“You know how cows look on a hillside as they graze and cavort?” I once tried to explain. “That would be my doing.”

I had to reassess my qualifications for that particular occupation as I was driving to work one day and saw a bovine herd loping up the hill after a tractor that was dragging hay.

“OK … A cow placement expert is really a farmer.”

Since then, my favorite field of expertise is in the area of color arbitration. I would be the definitive source on all matters concerning that age-old question: What color is this?

Need to know whether the jacket you’re about to purchase is navy or black? I will tell you. Is that hat fuchsia or peony? I will know the answer. Of course all decisions are final … there is no appealing the judge’s decision.

My real-life husband is among the plethora of people in need of this service.
A few years ago he bought a truck and called me at work, brimming with excitement, wanting to describe it to me. Since I have no understanding of technical aspects of mechanics the only part of the description I could remember was: “It’s green.”
When I got home and looked for this new green truck in the driveway I was somewhat flummoxed to find a big orange vehicle in its place.

“Hey, I thought you said the truck was green?”

“It is green … see there on the trim and the letting on the door?”
You may laugh, but it’s this type of color misunderstanding that can lead otherwise happy couples to have untimely breakups.

Remember my not-so imaginary friend? I saw him coming out of a health club dressed head to toe in purple Spandex one day and the magic was over.

“That’s it,” I said aloud as a co-worker looked over at me a little perplexed at the sudden outburst. “We’re breaking up.”

Friday, January 13, 2006

Temper, temper

She’s looking up at me with a scowl on her face, eyes growing smaller and more certain by the moment.

She is silent.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Flying by the seat of our pants

Up there

I had chills thinking about the flight this past Christmas Eve, a three-jump journey to the Duluth grandma and her growing reunion of family.

Last year’s jaunt to a different city for the same jamboree had been disastrous.

Back then our Ittybit was an “infant in arms,” screaming herself to sleep during each torturous descent. She had gotten her first stomach bug two days into the dream Boulder “vacation,” and each bout sent me into the shower and then directly to the laundry. When the bug spread to others all eyes were upon us. I willed myself invisible. It didn’t work.

By the time we returned from the holiday I had a new understanding of motherhood: It is the phase in one’s life when a vacation seems more work than the average day-to-day drudgery.

This Christmas, as we waited in the airport terminal with a wriggling toddler before the first leg of our trip, I caught a reflection of myself in the glass as I looked out the window at the empty slot where our plane should be. My hair had sprouted more grays.

According to the tickets, that empty space at the end of the jetway wouldn’t be filled for another two hours. My hope for a harmonious trip had faded along with my hair color.

As the minutes ticked away by the month, I was sure the meager supplies of diversions I’d packed would not be enough to sustain us for the next eight hours.

Just 16 minutes into the wait, I had already pulled out all the stops.

Glitter, crayons and snack particles littered our wake as we moved from one gate to the next trying to entertain the 2-year-old dervish whirling between us.

Narrowing my eyes I began sizing up my fellow travelers, hoping to enlist their unwitting assistance to make time move faster.

Who amongst them could help in this diabolical plot to entertain a toddler once the pay phone buttons had lost their luster? Who might scrunch their nose and walk brusquely to the security guard and complain?

I sidled up to a “Charlotte York-ish” young woman and her traveling companion, a puppy packed impeccably in a comfy carry-on kennel. I know it’s a Cavalier King Charles spaniel from watching “Sex and the City,” but I ask anyway to make small talk. While I was thrilled that this Charlotte turned out to be even more gracious than her fictional twin, I was puzzled as to why Ittybit wouldn’t go anywhere near the sweet little creature.

Then it hits me: “Oh that dog is tiny and cute. … Your dogs are large drooling beasts, who merely tolerate you because of what drops from your highchair. You don’t know what it is and think, judiciously, ‘approach with caution’.”

Of course, she thinks nothing of the death-defying pre-flight flight we took near Gate 7. Her worried father, however, considered contacting FAA (and OSHKOSH) to find out the stress endurance of overalls as I swung her by the seat of her pants, five inches from the ground, every so often setting her down gently on her tummy while I rest. He decided to let it ride after she squeals delightedly, “Do it again! Do it AGAIN!”

Eventually the meter runs out on this amusement too, and I scrape the bottom of my bag for a miracle.

Glue stick, coloring book … hmmm … where’s that Skymall magazine?

For the next hour Ittybit happily calls out the colors she requires as I rip them from the insipid catalog. As she smothers Elmo with a green, floppy flyer pillow torn from page 6, I rejoice. “There is still hope.”

Sunday, January 01, 2006

What will happen when she's 12?

toy horse

We had such good intentions.

As we move along this path of parenthood, we had aspirations of shaping a child who found the simplest of pleasures the most joyous.

We fully envisioned ourselves buying only classic toys made of wood and lead-free paints, of course, and fostering in her the ideals that material pleasures are fleeting.

As most parents find, there are times when you wonder why you buy toys at all. That incredibly elaborate doll with life-like hair and blinking eyes sits alone in a corner as Ittybit rattles around with an empty milk jug and a clothespin.

Shake, shake, shaking with happiness.

Of course such delights are fleeting. As her interests in the jug wane we trip over ourselves to find the next toy that will hold her attention.

We cross our fingers and hope it’s not going to be the talking car or the singing ride-on tractor that plays “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” at an unalterable volume. Especially because we know as soon as it leaves the store in our possession she’ll be on to something else.

I tell you, finding the TOY OF THE CENTURY is a drug worse than crack.

Once you see that light in a child’s eye pulse with excitement over a deluxe, 39-inch plush pet that could very well be the envy of the neighborhood, pulling out the wallet and forking over the cash seems more like an involuntary reflex.

So what if you need a horse trailer to cart it home?

That’s how I remember it happened anyway.

The stand-still horse measures head and shoulders taller than our tyke but is eerily captivating with its butterscotch coat and round, shiny eyes. It wasn’t even in a store when the love affair started. It was in the home of a friend and the toy of choice for all visitors.

I thought it was so cute that I made a point to take Ittybit’s picture astride so I could show it to my sister, a consummate horse lover.

That was it. The seed was planted and what grew was a monster desire on the part of my family to procure such a beast.

I suppose I couldn’t resist. There’s something about a horse the size of a Great Dane, which plays “Home on the Range” out of one ear and clip-clop sounds from the other, that makes your heart just go pitter-pat.

Well, almost.

As the dutiful daughter, I got the scoop and transferred the information back to the gifting parties. It was a little dishonest, I must admit. I was confident that finding this toy would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

I was wrong. Within days the doe-eyed animal had been located and purchased, destined to become the third dog in our house, and larger than the other two at that.

Of course what is worse is the realization that Ittybit was given a pony on this her third official Christmas.

What will we have to get her when she’s 12?