Sunday, January 31, 2010

It’s a ‘January Tree’ this year, hoping for hearts next

The brown needles were needling me. They were also stabbing anyone who walked in stocking feet on any floor in our house. Needles have a tendency to travel.

I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to take down the Christmas tree.

It was a tiny defeat, for sure. I don’t remember any tree of mine — artificial, live or in some middling phase of its demise — being dismantled before February.

It has become a something of a family joke: "How long is their tree going to stay around? We have a Christmas Tree but they have a January Tree, and Valentine’s Tree and soon my guess is they’ll be working on a Mother’s Day Tree … that’s if the house doesn’t burn down first."

It’s not funny, I know. It could happen. And as someone who unplugs the toaster oven when not in use, I should know better … or at least know enough not to tempt fate.

I often tell people that I’m lazy. But that’s not really true. Sure, everyone is keen on decorating the tree when the spirit of the season is fresh and new but once the bow is off the package, few (compulsive folks not withstanding) are as eager to painstakingly re-wrap the trappings and pack them away.

But I’ve given up on the careful storing of holiday artifacts years ago. Sure, I started out meticulously wrapping each ornament in tissue and separating them with sheets of cardboard, be they delicate glass orbs or layers of felt glued together with pom-poms and sequins.

However, with each progressive year I shave off a few minutes more on my takedown time. This year I broke down and bought an enormous plastic tub – the kind with a snapping lid and festive holiday colors -- and recycled the myriad cardboard boxes, marked "X-Mas" in Sharpie, that have been chasing me from apartment to apartment, home to home, during the last two decades.

I had condensed all the breakables into three smaller boxes within 27 minutes, then jammed the boxes into the storage tub and padded them with the soft, stuffed or impossible to destroy curios.

A few more minutes and the three strands of tiny twinkle lights that had been wrapped around the pine were wrapped (wrist-to-coil action) and stowed with room to spare.

No, it’s not the chore.

It’s just the idea of going to all the trouble — knowing at the outset that the thing you tethered to the top of your car had been happily living a farm-fed life for five to seven years — of dragging a living tree in from the outdoors spending an hour (or seven) getting it positioned straight in the stand (even if you give up and accept its crookedness as a natural quirk) and then putting on it every piece of glitter you’ve collected since your preschool days, forcing you to walk down memory lane for the *mumbles-a-number* time. ... All to have it wither and die in the span of three weeks’ time.

After having gone through all that, I want to HAVE this tree for longer than a few weeks. I want to read by its light on the Epiphany and hang hearts on its limbs for Valentine’s.

It seems so simple to me: I just want to enjoy every brown, crinkling sap-oozing day for as long as I can.

I want to vacuum up needles for an eternity.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

No one really wants TV to take them away

On weekend mornings I have a hard time getting off the couch. Even for coffee.

The kids play around me in a low growl that is a mix of fighting and fidgeting over various tiny toys. Any one of which is destined to puncture my sole if I were to venture into the kitchen for a warm-up. I stay put drinking cold dark roast and hoping the caffeine will start to do its work soon.

Every so often Ittybit ventures over to the place where I’m entrenched and tries to coax me out of my imposing quiet.

"Will you put the wings on my Angel Polly Pockets doll for me?" she asks.

"Do you have a ‘please’ for that request?"

"Please?" she says sweetly.

I reiterate my long-standing mantra -- Moms Don’t Play -- but I take the doll and try to affix the wings.

It’s not working, they won’t stay put.

I hand her pocket doll back with an apology and a recommendation. "I think you might have to hold your thumb on her back when you play with her to keep her wings stable."

She narrows her eyes at my idea, a look I know to be questioning my sanity, but disappears upstairs.

Small objects have a tendency to disappear around her brother, who is heading over to the couch full-speed ahead in his too-big shoes.

"Mommeee! Want watch ‘Diego GO!’"

My head hurts at the temples.

I click on the T.V.

I want them to play quietly. Be invisible. I want to finish my coffee. "Television … take them away."

But instead of the colorful ’toons they are used to, pictures of real suffering fill the screen.

What is this? Ittybit asks, lured back into the living room by the sound of television voices.

"This is a news story about a disaster that happened in a place called Haiti," I tell her.

My husband comes in from his desk and sits next to me. The Champ climbs into his lap, bringing with him a car he’s dismantled and packed its trunk with pilfered parts of Lego sets and other toys he’s gleaned. Ittybit sits in mine, forgetting her brother’s recent trespasses.

They don’t ask me to change the channel. No one can look away.

"What happened?," she asks. "Why are those people living outside? Why can’t they go home?"

We answer as best we can. There was an earthquake. Their homes are destroyed. Places nearby that could help them were destroyed, too. They have to wait for help from elsewhere. Help from elsewhere takes time.

The announcements from the broadcast keeps coming as I try to explain: No water. No food. Survivors still buried in rubble. Hope diminishing by the day.

A doctor talks about the suffering, the lack of supplies and infrastructure. The numbers are hard to picture.

On the screen a little boy screams in agony and shock, "why me," as he lays gripping a stranger’s hand in a make-shift triage center. He is waiting for someone he recognizes to comfort him. His parents are gone.

That was too much for ittybit, who understood the sentiment and urgency if not the boy’s words. It was too much for me, too. In that moment, that boy was my child, too.

They cut to a commercial. … A woman talks about dessert cups.

Ittybit brightens as her brain switches deftly from the confusion of what she’s just seen to a familiar game she plays with her father.

"What are they trying to sell me," daddy, she asks?

"Crazy, isn’t it?" He answers. "People are suffering in Haiti and here in America we’re trying to figure out what pudding choice is best."

We are silent again switch off the television, get off the couch. I can’t keep them away from the world or its suffering forever. But I really don’t want the television to take them away.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Love, marriage and Greek tragedy

"Mommy? Will you play wit me? Mommy, come here! Mommy, where’s the DEE? Want to watch race cars on Dee. Mommy, where’s superboy cape? Mommy, where’s cat? Mommy! dog toots! Mommy? mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy … MOM Eeeeeeee!

Mommy? Where AH you?!

Mommy? Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy mommy mommy-mommy-mommy mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy … mooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeee!


He can’t find me.

He can’t find me because I am sitting on a stepstool with my knees up to my neck, wedged under the kitchen counter, sipping a warm beverage as I hide from him.

It’s not as if we’re alone in the house. His father is sitting right beside him as the little king yells for his cape, and he yells for his bowl and he yells for his superheroes three.

But dad isn’t mom. For all The Champ cares at this moment in his wee little life, dad is merely a part of the d├ęcor that cooks dinner.

This developmental foible of childhood weighs on the man.

FATHER: "What am I? Chopped meat?"

OEDIPUS REX: "Yes."

MOTHER: "Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t even know what chopped meat is."

It seems as though I spend a lot of my family time reassuring the man that the small folks love him at the same instant the small people announce, loudly and without qualification, that they don’t want him to make their lunch, or play in the snow, or do a craft, or change a diaper …

Well, that last one he’s grateful for, but the other things make him feel as if I am the rock star and he is just a wad of gum waiting to be scrapped off an old shoe.

The books never mentioned this. Hollywood never lets on that Mom Love actually competes with Dad Love, and Mom Love has an early advantage.

Such is the case when the little lord font-le-boy toddles into my office, picks up our framed wedding picture from the bookshelf and starts describing what he sees: This is you. This is daddy. HEY! You married? I not want you married."

Sometimes dads are an acquired taste.

I try not to smile, though some small part in my cold, black heart thumps wildly at the idea that the kids want me to read books, and make crafts, and watch them play … and change diapers.

Well, not that last part.

I know this preference is just part of some developmental blueprint that in some previous era would ensure their survival. Such as way back in the 1950s, when fathers knew where babies came from but had not likely seen the event first hand.

Of course, I think about that and wonder how mid-century moms survived if all dad did when he came home from work was bellow for his slippers from children he could see but not hear.

It may be a different show, but I bet the sound effects are pretty much the same.

“Mommymommymommmymommy.”

"This, too, shall pass," I tell myself. I tell him.

"It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. He cries when you leave, but then he’s ok. He even has fun."

Now it’s my turn to feel like something stuck to a sore spot.

"A Band-Aid?"

"Or a Buzz Lightyear sticker? Take your pick."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Maybe rocket science isn’t out of reach

Experience — often lack of it — really is the hobgoblin of all life pursuits, isn’t it?

There are times when a person’s complete familiarity with a particular skill can undermine their focus, therefore putting them at risk of a stunning failure, sometimes even bodily harm. ... Picture someone working with a chainsaw … No. Don’t. Don’t want anyone having nightmares.

Suffice it to say that for the most part we don’t worry about what we know, we worry about what we don’t know.

I was thinking about this as I stood at the sewing counter of a local fabric store, asking the ladies what supplies a beginner might need … you know, seeing as how I bought my six-year-old a real sewing machine for Christmas … and seeing as how I don’t know the first thing about sewing anything besides replacement buttons (and even then the results aren’t pretty).

I could see from the expressions on their faces, they thought I was in way over my head.

Of course, I might have been projecting just a bit with my built-in facial expression read-o-meter. After all, it was the biggest shopping season of the year, and they are, in fact, sales folks. Just because they offered Mom–and-Me sewing classes and tried to sell me an $80 sewing kit doesn’t mean they think I’m a dolt who will sew my own fingers to a pillow project.

I thanked them and asked them to point me in the direction of thread.

I’ve muddled through before. It’s not the worst thing in the world for a person to do.

Not that muddling through hasn’t been mortifying at times. I’ve been critiqued for the way I’ve dug holes in the garden the way I’ve hammered a nail and even the way I mop floors. I’m been shown the proper way to bowl, the best way to stir batter and which side of the roll the bath tissue should face.

Yet sometimes winging it is a gratifying experience.

For instance ... the time I stood saucer-eyed in the tile aisle at Home Depot, discussing supplies with an equally clueless friend who had graciously offered to help me tackle a tiling project. Tile, check mastic, check grout? One box? Two? What about a tile cutter? Our conversation didn’t seem so out of left field until I felt a tap on my shoulder and some smirking woman thrust her card in my hand … "just in case your DIY project didn’t work out."

I didn’t give that woman or her card a second thought until I was standing with my friend outside of the finished job. She’d cut. I’d placed. It wasn’t perfect, but we’d done it ourselves and we’d done it together.

But I gave the fabric store ladies some extra thought. My finished craft projects always look like something the cat coughed up. Sewing may as well be rocket science.

And yet Christmas morning came, and the sewing machine made its way out of its wrapping paper to the dinning room table.

The reckoning was at hand.

I read and follow the instructions. Soon we had the thing humming along.

Without following a pattern, without measuring or cutting straight lines, we spent the afternoon putting it all together.

The designs we came up with were certainly imperfect. Our seams were crooked, prints didn’t match, our structures were lopsided. But when ittybit hugged her new pillow — an under stuffed patchwork of an indeterminate geometric shape — it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Write to Siobhan Connally at sconnally@troyrecord.com

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Wii wish you a happy, healthy New Year

I stepped on the "Balance Board" and a mechanical voice protested: "Oh!"

The games hadn’t even begun and I had the distinct feeling I’d already failed by hurting the machine.

"Stand still" the voice admonished as I tried to center my feet in the rectangles. "We can’t find you … please step off and we will reboot the system."

Nintendo’s tiny army of virtual trainers mean business.

I try again. Another protest emanates from the console as I step up. "Oh!?" it says with increasing alarm.

Can I be getting worse at this? I shift my weight again.

I half expect the voice to become shrill: "What is wrong with you? STAND STILL ALREADY, WILL YOU?!"

Bling, the machine chimes with my first success. "OK. Got you."

"Measuring …"

Bling. The voice happily tells me my weight and my body mass index as I try to lower the volume (Shush — let’s not tell the whole house, huh?) It then insults me a few more times as it leads me through a routine of basic balancing games.

"You’re pretty shaky, aren’t you? Do you trip a lot when you walk?"

Then, from nowhere, there is a drum roll and spotlights. The Wii Fit Plus is getting ready to tell me my Wii Fit Age.

Bling. "57."

"It is mocking me.

"People like you are the reason I don’t go to the gym," I tell the voice.

My husband laughs. I shush him, too.

I run through more preliminaries: I choose an avatar with little difficulty. (I say "little difficulty" because I didn’t bother to personalize "Figure F.") In fact, I consider the consumer satisfaction I would have had were I able to make my character look less human. "Too bad they don’t let you pick animals," I grouse.

"Oh, I could totally see your avatar being a cougar," my husband laughs as I contemplate throwing the nunchuk at his head. I decide it’s not a good idea. This hateful thing was expensive, the last thing I want to do is replace it.

He disappears, realizing he’s better off wrestling the kids into their pajamas than jabbing at me from the peanut gallery. (Men have been eviscerated by women for lesser transgressions.)

The computer tells me I need to pick a trainer. Do you want a woman or a man? "Definitely a woman," I say aloud as I try aiming the controller at the screen. "I don’t want any man, not even a computer generated one, commenting on my posterior."

Like magic the Barbie-esque figure appears on the screen, her hands on her waist and her hip jutting slightly outward.

"Wait? Did Santa bring us Wii Fit Pole Dancing or something?" I grumble, thinking of the programmers, in their geeky glasses and pocket protectors, designing the girl of their dreams instead of one that might actually exist.

I follow along as the perky trainer twists, bends, reaches and balances.

In between each exercise she takes time to critique my performance. She contradicts herself with each assessment. She tells me balance isn’t my strong suit, then tells my I have excellent balance. She tells me I’m weak and strong.

I hate her.

But I keep going.

Side twists.

Plank.

Sit ups.

Push ups, side plank, push ups.

Lunges.

And then my husband hands me a wet towel containing my screaming, flailing boy.

"He didn’t want to get dressed for bed," he says, dusting his hands of the chore.

The woman on the television notices I’m just standing on the balance board. She doesn’t see that I am trying to calm a grumpy lump of terry cloth.

"You have to do the exercises to get the benefit. …

"These exercises won’t do themselves you know."

I step off the Balance Board and head upstairs.

"Where do you think you are going?" chides the voice.

A few minutes later both kids are asleep and I go back to the workout. I turn on the machine and it welcomes me back. I return to lunges, where I left off.

The male trainer appears on the screen.

"I hope you don’t mind. We’ve had to substitute trainers for this exercise. Your regular trainer is unavailable."

I stand there blinking.

"How can a computer-generated trainer be unavailable? Did she go out for a virtual latte?"

"Now that is impressive!" my husband whistles. "Even your imaginary trainer is avoiding you."