Thursday, June 29, 2006

Simple substitution: Dad, it's your turn


"Don't be fooled," I tell myself as I look at Ittybit's face over the mountain of bath toys, gearing up for our daily struggle -- bath time.

Behind those angelic puffy cheeks, pursed lips and sparkling eyes is a confection of unnatural sweetness -- A look that says: 'I win' in no uncertain terms.

It is the thin-lipped countenance of determined celebration; the knowing gaze of understanding. The expression of delight in a job well done: she's successfully trained her parents (*cough-sputter mother) to acquiesce to her desire to keep her hair from EVER touching water.

Oh sure she will get into the tub. Constant work and ample bribery, not to mention the complicity of an ever-growing army of bath toys, has guaranteed her willingness to drench the bathroom with bathwater. But each and every dousing is not without a liberal dose of inveigling.

By the time I've coaxed her into the bath by assuring her that I'm not going to wash her hair "right now," her mental time clock starts counting down. She washes between her toes and scrubs behind her knees in between tea parties with toy sharks and high dives with her Little Pony, but when it comes time to wash the back of her neck she starts to squirm for the towel and an end to "baf-time."

As the days stretch into weeks her hair starts showing signs of life. Sticking up in all directions or plastered to her forehead, the changing sculpture that has become her hairdo is the emblem of my failure as a mom. Since I am routinely in charge of cleaning up the kid -- and since I am unable or unwilling to deal with a struggling, soapy, squealing, squidlet yelling "I'm ALL DONE here!" as she scrambles out of my grasp -- the "hairdon’t" will forever be my badge of shame.

This type of thing hardly ever happens with the dad part of the equation.
I'm not sure when the shift happened, exactly. There WAS a time when his efforts would have a limit and he'd hand over a writhing mass of baby flesh for me to calm. The he'd walk away shaking his head.

But now the man in our life has it all down. He wouldn't stand for the shenanigans I put up with. He is even able to take her to the grocery store and get through the aisles without much hassle. On a recent trip, the first in which the "I want this," phrase made it's inevitable appearance, he was miraculously able to talk her out of absconding with a pillow-shaped bag of Fruit Loops stuffed under her shirt.

In my shopping cart, there would have been a lot of "wannas" and "hafta haves," followed by a long and drawn out "PEAS!!!!!" The eventual tantrum would be icing on the cake (not to mention the icy stares it would lend from the stockers, who would have to return my selected items to the freezer before a literal meltdown occurred) as I leave my cart mid-shop.

Somehow, he was able to avert the most disastrous of all outbursts — the crying, limpbodied explosion of tears -- by simple substitution.

When he handed me a happy toddler, carting a box of plain-jane Rice Chex instead of the sugar-packed rings of color, I had to ask: "How did you manage that?"
"I said 'NO.'"

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The trouble with some women (like me)

Driving over the bridge, with nowhere to go but onto the highway, the crazy antics of the guy in the pickup truck next to me made my heart race.

There was no flirting going on, there was only flattening.

I thought something wasn't right with the car's handling, but there wasn't the tell-tale thumpity-thump of an off-kilter chassis. It was just a feeling. Of course I did what anyone in denial would do: I turned up the radio and drove a little slower (just in case).

But I couldn't ignore the man making funny faces as his lips mouthed the words "FLAT TIRE" silently through the glass. I had to pull over.

Yup. Flat.

Not all-the-way flat just considerably more flat than a tire should be, which means with a little luck I can get the car off the highway, into a service station and fill it with air before I’m scraping sparks along the asphalt.

The idea of having to change the tire goes through my mind, but I know such a thing means wrestling lug nuts with the large probability of failure, and I haven't yet given up hope that that it’s just a slow leak.

And, don't you know, the last thing I wanted to do was call my husband.

Reason #1: I've left my cell phone in the diaper bag, which is with my parents and the baby.

Reason #2: I don't want to admit (in reverse order) that I’m having car trouble, need help and that I don’t have the phone.

Reason #3: He would ENJOY being needed, which means, by the unjust rules of the universe, I need to assert my independence.

So I cross my fingers and ease back on the highway, caution lights flashing and all.

The first station I reach is closed. I check the trunk to inspect the spare, just in case, but I don't find the tire iron. I agonize a little about asking the women sitting on a nearby porch if I can use their phone, but decide I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I made it this far, maybe I can make it as far as the I-can-see another gas station.

I cross my fingers, chant "please-make-it-there-please-make-it-there" and pull back onto the roadway again.

Miraculously, I pull into the next station with the tire intact. I drop two quarters into the air pump and it comes to life.

I fill up the tire, but, having trouble with the pressure gauge, I check it over and over drawing the attention of a kindly biker who ventures my way to try and help.

"Thanks. I'm fine," I tell him. "It's just a low tire and I’m hoping it's only a slow leak. … My jack is missing a part and I don’t want to get stranded."

With no audible hissing I decide to venture onward. The biker draws my attention to the little black cap that I distinctly remember taking off at the previous gas station but somehow lost between there and here, and suggests it needs to be replaced pronto.

I don't mention I lost it mere seconds ago, the same way I lost the cap to the canola oil bottle in my kitchen and still haven't found it. I blame mommy brain and let it go.

Driving off I resume my chant — please-make-it-there -please-make-it-there -please-make-it-there -please-make-it-there -please-make-it-there -please-make-it-there — but I know there’s no way on Earth I’m going to make it there.

So I turn on my flashers, turn up the radio and drive to the furthest exit I can remember that has a service station and a payphone. When I get there the tire is flat again, and it's clear I can pump all the psi in the tank I want, it will be to no avail.

I call my father and let him know I'’m going to be late picking up Ittybit, who he and my mother have been entertaining for more than an hour now. ... And casually slip in the "could-you-possibly-come get-me?" question.

He tactfully tries to get me to ask someone to help me, and I misunderstand. I tell him it's not a SERVICE station, it's a CONVENIENCE store. There's no one here who can help. After all, this isn't convenient.

I explained I would have tried to change it myself but I can'’t find the tire iron. And he tells me it's wrapped in a little brown bag floating around somewhere in the trunk.

A light goes on.

Maybe I can fix it. Maybe I can do this myself.

I hang up the phone and rush back to the car. I search the trunk and find the missing tools.

Level ground, check; brake on, check; jack in place, check; lug nuts loosened … ERRRRRRRRRRR!!!! Ugh. They won't budge.

I sit down on the curb and stare at the wheel. Oddly, I feel calm.

I'm going to have to do it. I’m going to HAVE to call my husband.

Ring. … ring … ring …

“Hi, hon,” he says with a song in his voice. “Your dad called. I'm on my way.”

Sunday, June 18, 2006

How did I wind up on their SH*! list?

How did I wind up on their S#*! list?

SPAM that is.

All week long I've been getting e-mails from a former college buddy I haven't seen in years. Out of the relative blue came a string of forwarded messages with off-color jokes, editorial cartoons and inspirational messages. Nothing terribly offensive, just out of the ordinary.

I shot back a quick note, ignoring the punch-lines and explaining I was pleased as punch to hear from her. I inquired about her family and if she’d seen any of the "old gang" rattling around in her travels.


A few days later her husband's name popped into my inbox sandwiched between a BBC news update and a brief note from my mother-in-law checking in with a grandmotherly message for Ittybit. His communiqué, like his wife's, was a little bit of humor (video form) making the rounds on the World Wide Web.

Another note is sent off into the ethosphere ... more nothing … until … the mother of all pet peeves arrives in my inbox bearing their return address -- an e-mail warning me of the dangerous BLUSH SPIDER.

There are the people who wouldn't stand for pictures of Branjolina's leftover grilled cheese sandwich bits coming anywhere near their Internet, and I think I may be one of those people. It's not that I don’t like jokes. I laughed hysterically when the Trunk Monkey popped out of my inbox and dragged me to the Suburban Auto Group's Web site, where I spent the better part of an hour viewing SAG's library of simian "public service" ads. It's just that I have little tolerance for alarmist entertainment.

For the record: NPR is not getting shut down so don't sign and forward the petition; KFC uses real chickens; hypodermic needles are not showing up in McDonald's play areas and on the undersides of gas pumps; and there aren't people trolling around mall parking lots trying to knock you out with ether in perfume bottles.

I have noticed, however, that since I've begun tracking down urban legends and torturing folks bent on perpetuating these myths with a few facts, my inbox has turned into a virtual desert.

I can't tell you how many people send back a rebuke, telling me that they were just trying to be helpful when they passed along that "urgent" message reminding each of us to turn off our cell phones at the gas stations, lest they go off and cause an explosion.

I suppose if it were a political thing, I'd be saying I was trying to fight spam over in their e-mailbox so I won’t have to fight it in my own. But it's an uphill battle, and it doesn't help matters much that even gas stations have fallen for the hoax, many of them posting signs warning of the potential for disaster of using your cellphone at the pump.

I hang my head a little in shame every time my letters are returned with a line of hurt feelings and a streak of consternation: "Well, I thought it was sage advice even if it never happened. It can't hurt to be careful."

I'm beginning to think hitting the delete button is really the best way to connect with my imaginary friends.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The winds of change

I remember when I felt time was just standing still. Ten years after college ended, I was still wearing my ratty Levis with the worn knees and sitting on salvaged couches. I could move through life as I pleased, or so I thought, even if it wasn't true.

There were signs of responsibility — there were more bills to pay, pets that needed attention and care, and there was a growing accumulation of things that seemed to own me — but nothing that quickened the passage of time. It just seemed to drag along from one day to the next.

Then along came Ittybit. Even in pregnancy, I felt time speed up. Nine months didn't seem long enough to adjust to this new existence that was headed our way. I spent a lifetime coming to terms with who I thought I was only to have a 6 pound, 2 ounce little girl show me who I could be, and, more importantly, who I wanted to be.

Time is just flying by much too fast now. Weeks are flowing like minutes. She's already half past two, and if I'm not careful to pay attention, I miss all the best things.

Take, for instance, a recent car ride in which Ittybit demanded "wind." It was a cold morning. I tried to talk her out of it, but she persisted. She wanted the wind. So I pulled a jacket across my lap, turned the heat to high and acquiessed.

Turns out she wanted me to open the windows of the car so she could liberate a roll of paper towels — leftover from a recent cleaning — one sheet at a time. I had to laugh when she heeded my rear-view admonitions and, drumming her fingers on the roll, asked if she could make "yittle pieces" dance on the wind.

"Absolutely not," I stifle a laugh. "That's wasting AND littering. And we don't do either of those things."

I didn't really expect her to comply, but I had no idea how closely she was paying attention.

As we continued to drive she asked me if I "yiked" the wind.

"No," I answered. "It's too cold out today. I have goose bumps."

A few streets later she started to list our differences on the matter: "You no yike wind. I yike wind. Mommy not yike it. I yike it."

Something about the categorization of this new knowledge and the tone in her voice, which was matter-of-fact if not melodic, made me add something else to the list of differences. Something I didn't want to think about at 8 in the morning.

Namely our names.

I didn't want to lose my indentity in marriage and neither did my husband, so we kept our respective names.

Up until Ittybit was born I corrected people who called me Mrs. The Mister, and delighted that during her first days on this Earth the name on her wristband was mine. For those four days in the hospital, at least, everything about her was mine.

It was stunningly greedy of me, yet I felt it only fair because she was a part of me; someone I knew better than anyone, even if it was only for a moment in a lifetime. When we left the hospital, I left as the person I had always thought I had been and she left with a new name on her birth certificate. It was our first major difference but not likely the last.

As we drove down the road with the windows fully open now and the heat blowing hot against the tops of my feet, Ittybit asked the question again: "Mama, you yike the wind?"

This time my answer was more considered: "Yes, Baby. I LOVE it. I love the wind."

I could hear her excitement bubble over: "You yub it? I yub it, too!"

Sometimes all it takes is a little fresh air to remind me what's most important.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

And now ... ve DAUNCE!


"Ow! OW! OWWWW!"
My husband is yelling and dancing around the house in a towel again.

"You know we should really get a disco ball for the shower if you’re intent on practicing your moves," I tell him without ever looking up from my game of "grocery store" with Ittybit. (We're at the part where she is trying to get me to give her $49 for two boxes of pasta and a carton of chicken broth but refusing to bag my purchases just like at the REAL market.) He complains that it feels like something's biting him. I think it's just a phantom sting until he flings down the towel and stomps on it.

He searches gingerly through the trampled terrycloth and extracts a flattened wasp. Proof, according to his side of the story, that the carnivorous insect was in a clean towel he pulled from the laundry basket, already folded but not yet put away.

I’m not sure I can endure any more communal living with the wildlife that migrates through our house each time the seasons change.

In addition to the occasional outdoor-dwelling neighborhood cat that makes its way indoors despite the presence of two loveable but loud dogs, I've put up with visits from bewildered raccoons, discombobulated bats, and off-track birds, not to mention freeloading houseguests such as spiders of all variety; worms I can’t identify; lady bugs, which are cute in small numbers but terrifying in swarms; and ants that fly. Each year brings a new brand of infestation.

The wasps, though, have moved in for good.

I imagine they are building elaborate wasp "condominimums" behind the walls in the rafters. On the sun porch in the evenings, I sip my coffee and watch their enormous bodies wheedle in and out of the light fixtures. I am sure they are studying the sockets so they can bring the magic of illumination to their own more than humble abodes.

I can't get myself to think of these creatures as anything but villainous. Especially when Ittybit comes running to me from the playroom of the same porch, complaining that there is a "weary, weary, scary 'piiider on her duck. And begging me, "Peas, Mama, det it off."

As I go to investigate — fully prepared to relocate a daddy long legs or some other common house spider and explain the family motto: spiders are our friends — I stop mid-thought when I see that what is crawling on the gigantic stuffed animal is a wasp.

I shudder at the image swirling in my head of that inch-long monster driving it's stinger into her bee's knees. I sweep her up in my arms, telling her all the while she was right to call me for help.

While the husband studies the labels his collection of insecticides, carefully deciding what toxins he's willing to unleash on the world to rid ours of the latest infestation, I rush to judgment.

"This time, we disco," I announce and I run to the bathroom for my no-name can of hairspray, rusted from 12 years of styling neglect and shower steam.

"Welcome to the '80s, waspers; I hope you like Extra Hold."