Sunday, May 25, 2008

When we agree to disagree

My husband and I disagree.


About a lot of things.

For instance: He likes chocolate-based ice cream flavors while I prefer fruit or coffee-flavored confections.

He can't throw anything away. I can’t stand clutter.

He prefers action adventure. I like witty comedies with lots of dialogue.

He thinks children who make hideous experiments out of food items in the pantry should be made to eat their creations. I think a little time in Time Out and a lot more supervision is a more humane and appropriate consequence.

He also thinks a woman in Missouri, who was indicted on charges in connection with a "cyber bullying" event that ended after a teenage girl committed suicide, should go to jail.

I don't.

It's not that I think Lori Drew — the woman accused on several charges for opening an account on a social networking site under a false name so that her kid could "get back" at a former friend — doesn't deserve to be vilified in the press, or spurned by her neighbors, or considered to be America's Most Immature Mother for the next fifteen minutes or fifteen years for that matter. She definitely earns that disrespect.

It's that I think making Cyber Bullying (or any bullying for that matter) a crime endangers our freedom of speech.

For my husband the argument is personal: He puts himself in the place of the parents. He sees a woman who victimized a teenage girl. Even if she didn't know the girl would hang herself in the aftermath, she is culpable and should be punished by the law. He sees an event that is deeply disturbing, and that, from all media accounts, seems to be burgeoning as more and more people avail themselves of the thin blanket of anonymity the internet provides.

I feel all of those things, too, and yet I also see that such a visceral reaction has caused a rush toward making outright and low-down meanness a crime. I see the disparity of having laws that apply justice arbitrarily. Why have different laws for cyberspace? In the real world, if they had passed fake notes in the classroom would they be in the courtroom?

Cyberspace is not really a different world. Meanness is meanness wherever it is found, whether on the schoolyard or in the boardroom or on a Web page.

I think we all need a few lessons in dealing with jerks that doesn't end up with a phone call to the local precinct. We need our children to be strong enough to ignore; to rise above their petty peers. Not only because bullies will always exist but because if this keeps up, one day freedom of speech may not.

Say your criticism of treatment by a doctor, or shoddy service at a store, or any number of things you have a right to say becomes a criminal matter because the person to whom you are referring claims you made it up intentionally?

Really, this type of legislation could go anywhere and apply to anything.

What about that boy to whom you gave your virginity IN REAL LIFE? He's the one who told you he'd love you forever and who broke up with you the next day. What about him? Some of you are probably wishing he could get his comeuppance, too. Maybe if he broke your heart in an e-mail, you'd get your shot.

To my husband, and many others I imagine, it may seem as if I am defending this monstrous woman who antagonized a child in her skewed understanding of fairness and lack of any semblance of parenting skills. Everyone, it seems, wants an eye for an eye.

I want to teach my kids that jerks are jerks; and nobody — not even a Real Boy who tells you lies or says mean things — is worth your tears. You are better than that. We should all be better than that. We can unplug. We can move on. And we can agree to disagree.

If we could do that we'd surely take most of the power away from the small minded and mean spirited.

Until then we can the bullies of morning news magazines take care of the public shaming. They're already on it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

An ode to the supermarket

The refrigerator is empty.

Well, almost.

A single snow pea is alone in the vegetable crisper, having somehow managed to escape the thin plastic produce bag when all the remaining vegetable orphans were gathered up for the traditional "What's Left Stirfry."

We adults play a game of rock, paper, scissors to see who will get the task of refilling the larder.

I lose.

I snake up and down the aisles of the grocery store, throwing this and that into the shopping cart.

I can do this in my sleep, I think to myself, despite having the Champ sitting in the sling, protesting the inability to reach a breakable item and Ittybit asking every six steps if we need whatever is in her line of vision.

"No honey, we don't need any pickled pigs feet today, but we could use a few of those pears. You may pick them out?"

It's been a tradition in our house that if a child asks for healthy food as we do "The Big Shop" together, we indulge. I keep telling myself a child that eats vegetables is priceless, so don't worry that the sugar snap peas are pricey.

We avoid most of the center aisles where the prepackaged food is at eye level. We try not to buy anything that has any recognizable children's characters marketing it to us.

"We do not buy Dora yogurt," I tell Ittybit with the same firmness I've established her father and myself as "Dog People" not "Cat People."

"There will come a day when you can buy your own Dora foods," I tell her. "But until that time comes, we will be buying the one with the cow on the label because it doesn't have high fructose corn syrup."

Nothing usually changes, not even the order in which the items appear as we rarely alter our route through the maze of narrow aisles. Even the pre-schooler's picks have become predictable: "We need bananas, apples, oranges, cucumbers, broccoli, peppers and spinach ... can we have melon, too?"

Week after week the same things pile up in the cart: fruit, vegetables, coffee, cereal, pancake mix, bread, pasta, sauces, juice, meats, eggs, milk, cheeses, butter and ice cream. Occasionally something new catches my attention and I pitch it in with the rest of the provisions.

So it was with some surprise that the check-out clerk totaled our haul and handed me the bill for 160 smackeroos.

I'm not sure if the checker in Lane 7 noticed my head spin completely around (because I think from the jarring sensation in my neck it happened pretty fast) but there I was sputtering and wondering when exactly WAS the last time I did the marketing?

Might it have been last year? Could it really have been only last week? Have prices really gone up that much in only seven days?

I was full of questions, and yet I didn't want to be THAT person. You know, the one who stares at the cashier in disbelief, muttering about how her food dollar used to go so much farther. Emitting a cloud of blame that somehow wafts over the register in the direction of the poor soul who is collecting payment? Yeah. THAT person.

Instead I look over at the person putting my groceries into the colored, reusable bags we've accumulated in hopes of saving the planet. Nothing really out of the ordinary is going into the bags.

There's no super-duper sized container of laundry detergent; no pharmacy, cleaning or personal products.

Besides a few boxes of cereal and one box of snack crackers there’s not much that isn't considered a staple.

I sign the receipt and sigh.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with food.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dear fill in the blank

The People for Less Unrest in Marriage, an imaginary but incredibly well-organized think tank for which I sometimes find myself a spokesperson, would like to share the following announcement as a public service:

With the skyrocketing price of food and the growing unrest about the safety of its origins, the necessity of purchasing a chest-type freezer and stocking it with locally produced and butchered meats might seem like a very wise endeavor; a good investment, even.

It's an endeavor made infinitely more satisfying if you find yourself helping a struggling farmer in the process.

And we at PLUM like farmers not to struggle.

Yes, your friends WILL likely want to know that there is an alternative to paying exorbitant prices at the grocery store for saline-injected, color infused cow flesh of questionable origin.

You should go right ahead and send them an e-mail, alerting them to special chance they have to fill up on free-range, grain fed bovine that is completely hormone and antibiotic free. They will undoubtedly thank you for the tip. They also don’t care to see farmers struggle.

But all this good intention and progressive purchasing will spiral into a vortex of flame if your significant other — the one who said: "... Yeah ... not too keen on adding THAT much red meat to our diets..." when you wanted to buy the same freezer and fill it with a half a cow last winter — is initially notified of your NEW grand plan as a "CC'd" recipient of the same missive that went out to your entire electronic address book.

That is all.

Oh ... except we do have another concern here at PLUM.

When asking for a favor, it's always advisable to remember not to pretend you are Tom Sawyer. No matter how fun you tell them painting a fence will be, it's still a lot of work.

Your significant other is not really all too keen on having to take out the trash or pave the driveway or do the dishes on their night off. It's probably wise to ask in a way that doesn’t sound like YOU are doing THEM a favor for letting them help you out.

I do not WANT to help you clean out the cruddy, gunky buildup that's congealed in the crevices of your car’s cup holders during the last two years while you’ve driven over country roads without the lids on your travel mug. ... But I will if you ask me nicely and don’t disappear to play video games on your iPod while I toil.

That is all.

Except. Oh, there are some other items that should be on your radar as the spouse of a member of PLUM: Sponges should be wrung after use; dirty clothes should be put in hampers; shoes should be left at doorways; and dishes may be put INTO the dishwasher at any time after the contents have disappeared into your digestive system.

We know you are trying though. And that is why the People for Less Unrest in Marriage would also like to thank you for taking out the recycling. The garbage and recycling people, however, are writing to the People Against Procrastination — another hard working but entirely imaginary organization, of which I am only a part time member — to get you to do it more often.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Shopped, dropped and rolled at the mall

I recently got it in my mind that I wanted to look less like the aging hipster I am and more like *shudder* a grown up.

I had a carrot hanging over my head: A party that didn't include balloons or pin the tail on the donkey. This would be a fete where people my own age would actually speak to me and not just to tell me my kid was putting something dangerous in his mouth. It was to be an evening in which adult beverages would be consumed and tiny plates of succulent savories would be passed that only folks under three feet tall could reject.

Oh, the invitation said it was to be casual affair, but I knew better. I knew half of those in attendance would be dressed to the nines and the other half would be dressed to the eights. I did NOT want to be the only person at the gathering dressed like an integer in boy-style Levis' jeans, a boxy sweater and clogs.

I did NOT want to be me; Not this time, I told myself. This time I was going to go shopping and I would buy something that would scream "SHE IS HIP. SHE IS IN TOUCH WITH FASHION. SHE LOOKS GOOD. HER CLOSET DID NOT CLOSE TO NEW TOGS IN 1989."

My mission was to have people take one look at me and think: "Gee, she cleans up well."

But with two kids and a husband (who's idea of helping is standing just outside the dressing room door asking the sales folks if they've got anything that would "fit tighter") I needed a plan.

I'm not a planner. I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal.

So I did what everyone (except the males of the species) does when standing in an unfamiliar place: I asked for directions. I reached out to friends and begged them to give me a primer (with photographic examples) of clothing styles that would make me look skilled in the art of dressing myself.

They were good. I could feel their fingers on the pulse of the fashion district’s artery as they came to my aid. While I was absently paging through catalogues looking at fonts and wondering why the models had bare feet, they were telling me to "turn to page 30 of the most recent jcrew catalog and look at the clothes."

They even gave me rules-of-thumb to help me make the best decisions should I get to the store and find the catalog and the inventory didn't jibe. They offered advice such as "shop in the petite section," "select jackets that are 'cropped' and that 'nip' at the waist," and "choose funky colors as accents."

I felt ready. I felt charged. I felt emboldened. I was going to look for a wrap dress and espadrilles, or wide-leg slacks and shimmery top. I was on a mission to find heels and chunky jewelry. I was going to click through those racks with authority. If something stood out that I liked I was going to PUT IT RIGHT BACK. I may not know much, but I know I can't be trusted with my taste in clothes.

Standing in the store, with the Champ in one arm and Ittybit pulling the other out of its socket, I knew I was doomed.

"How can there be more pants than tops?" I wonder aloud, noticing a seven-to-one ratio of styles. There were pedal pushers, capris, hipslung, ultra low rise, city cut, short and long ... and yet only a single tank top in seven different colors.

I felt like a deer, blinking in the glare of headlights.

The store clerks were cheerful and accommodating, but ultimately unhelpful.

"Oh, we're getting petites in JUNE!" said a lovely woman, touching my arm in solidarity.

I try on a few things, but nothing looked right. I hung my head in defeat, but I dove in anyway.

After an hour I came up for air, settling on some comfortable things with outlandish price tags.

Even before I saw the total, though, I knew the score:

Flattering jeans, $100;
Blue silk shirt, $89;
Black strappy sandals, $125;
Comment from host upon arriving: "Thanks for not dressing up," Priceless.