Sunday, July 31, 2011

When moms croak and cats fly magic can happen

"He stole my gnome and then he pinched me on my foot."

"Well, she tookt my esperamint and woozent given it bact."

They've been bickering all morning. He coveted her Lego Gnome figurine with the fishing pole and hat set at a jaunty angle. She wanted his Mad Scientist with the pointy, rubber wig and plastic beaker filled with green bubbles. Neither wanted to trade.


When they stood shoulder to shoulder at the kitchen door trying to prevent the other from getting to me first, I wanted to run away from home.

The only thing keeping me from screaming right there and then was a case of allergy-induced laryngitis.

"You," I croaked, pointing toward my son: "Stop touching your sister. And you," I turned to my daughter: "Stop tattling on your brother, and handle this yourself. You are a big girl."

Her eyes got all big and she clutched at her chest as if mortally wounded from being falsely accused.

"Me? I'm not tattling. Tattling is when you tell something that isn't true about a person, and he most definitely PINCHED me AND took my Lego. It's not fair."

"No. Telling a lie is 'fibbing.' Tattling is when you tell of someone's actions, hoping to get them into trouble. It's really a breach of confidence."

"No it's not. Not telling when someone hits you is letting them be bullies, and it's not allowed. You have to speak up. Anyway, you're the parent. You are supposed to tell him to apologize for hitting me and then get back my toy."

All I wanted to do was soak my throat in a mug of warm tea and honey, and arguing with a seven-year-old over my perceptions of the effectiveness of Zero Tolerance polices wasn't going to get me anywhere.

The bickering continued and I thought I would lose my mind. Even our mostly-deaf, incontinent dog started to bark, presumably because one of my warring minions had left their breakfast uneaten and teetering just out of her reach.

The only recourse I could muster at that moment was to let loose the full power of my rage and hope it didn't do permanent damage to my vocal chords or the children's tender hearing.


My voice sounded like a cartoon. And yet, only the cat, who launched herself three feet straight up into the air and then shot into the next room as if her tail were on fire, seemed to be upset by my Exorcist-like outburst.

I felt bad for scaring the cat. A little, anyway.

Everyone else (except for the geriatric dog, who still wanted the waffles) started to laugh at the feline's fleetness.

And then a real, Miracle of Supply happened. The boy handed back the girl's Lego and she in turn told him to keep it.

It must have been a true hardship to have lost the appetite for bickering just when the rewards were greatest. For I could see in their eyes how much they wanted to see their old mom make the cat fly again.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Like mother, like son

The Champ used to be so sweet.

A happy child. Friendly and amenable. A parent's dream. That's what people called him. Of course, they'd see him playing happily by himself, nary a whine nor whisper of discontent ...

OK. ...

He was never one to immediately share his toys, or anything even remotely resembling toys — lint balls, perhaps from under the bed — with visiting playmates, but eventually the kindness of others would rub off and he would relent. He might even ofter a broken rubber band to the patient guest.

But that's just how kids are sometimes. Selfish little jerks.

Mostly you try to let that stuff pass with small reminders of how we "should be treating our friends," hoping the operative word FRIENDS will eventually make an impression with repeated use.

Lately, though, life with The Champ has seemed a little like being forced to to sit in a darkened movie theater watching sneak previews of his teenage self saying all manner of unscripted lines, in a language I don't quite understand. Only the smell of butter-flavored treats or the feeling of an arm's length detachment would make this "phase" seem less dreamlike.

He growls at strangers when they try to make his acquaintance, or worse, he'll describe physical features instead of using names when asking questions of his own.

Even when he's trying to be pleasant, there's the unmistakable awkwardness of candor:

He'll respond to an emphatic "Thank You Very Much" with an equally effusive "You're not welcome."

"Hey, Mr. Fat Guy, did you ride your bike all day way over here? Dat's pretty cool."

"Mrs. Old Lady. You dropped somepin from your poctet."

"That kid is out of control. I'm not playing wit him."

I smile painfully, wishing I could clasp my hands tightly over his mouth two seconds before the words tumbled out. But there is no two-second delay in real life. ... It only feels like time slows, since the words hang in the air taunting you with the fallacy that they would be so easy to clear away with only the swish of a hand.

Those moments of pure mortification, however, are the flip side of the moments of undeserved perfection.

Like the time, in high school, I walked home from the bus stop and some catcalling seniors drove by in their muscle car making a spectacle of themselves.

I thought it may have been some act of divine intervention when their transmission fell out onto the roadway a few yards after they sailed past me. I remember feeling vindicated as I walked by the broken down jalopy and they were quiet as mice.

Or when my otherwise disobedient pooch, heeded my whistle at the dog park and ran to sit at my side. As a crowd watched.

Even though you know these moments were gifts and unlikely to be repeated, the seed of hope that you can control the universe is planted anyway.

Someday ... if you just keep reminding him ... he will be charming again.

"Oh, Champ. That's not polite. We don't describe people ... we use their names. We try to find something nice to say. We try to avoid things that could hurt people's feelings. What if I said you were out of control and I didn't want to play with you?"

"You do!"

I stand there squinting in the glaring light of truth: Parents can really be jerks sometimes, too.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

And justice for ...

I'm one of those moms people have been talking about.

Kind of. ...

I'm surely the kind who can picture themselves faced with the horror of dealing with a missing child. Or, more likely, not dealing with it. Picturing themselves, instead, crumpled up on a couch somewhere in a darkened room, not coping at all.

Truly, I don’t know how I’d react to such a tragedy, and I hope I never have to find out.

But I’m not the kind of mom who could bear to watch the media coverage of the Casey Anthony trial. And not because I couldn't fathom how a woman could kill her own child. Or how a child could die and a mother move on with her life, seemingly unaffected by the loss.

I can fathom that, and it is soul crushing. No one will ever have satisfying answers. I know this, too.

What I really couldn't stand was to see all the law-abiding citizens lining up for a chance to gawk at a woman they believe murdered her daughter and then covered it up, rationalizing their own behavior as anything other than morbid fascination combined with mob mentality.

I couldn't stand the presumption of guilt.

And then Casey Anthony was acquitted, stunning pretty much everyone except, it seems, folks who believe evidence should weigh more heavily than the circumstances surrounding that evidence. More heavily than emotion. Especially when first-degree murder is charged.

I can understand the shock. I can understand the anger being raw and natural. But I had to admit I was proud of that jury. Proud that they came to such an impartial judgment based on law for an otherwise unlikable woman, especially in light of the vocal, pitch-fork carrying masses.

Most people it would seem, at least the ones who stepped up to the microphone in the immediate aftermath, see the decision as proof of a fatally flawed American justice system. And already states around the country are trying to remedy it with more hastily constructed reactionary laws that will will more likely erode it than strengthen it.

Laws proposed that seek to revoke double jeopardy and the fifth amendment among them.

I hope they come to their senses, though. Because what happened in Florida is how the system is supposed to work. It is supposed to err on the side of the accused, especially in cases where the death penalty will be imposed.

The prosecution has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. And it didn't.

They can't just trust their guts. Proof and evidence are not just technicalities. Crimes that call for the death penalty can't be judged on basic instinct. Ever.

Of the many things I heard people say about what they really thought of Casey Anthony in the wake of the verdict, the most interesting to me was how many believed the jury failed because of a technicality. “Her daughter probably did drowned, but Casey Anthony was still responsible because she tried to hide it. ”

That statement alone shows me this jury didn’t fail. The prosecutor did. The crime they describe does not fit the charge of first-degree murder, it is more in line with manslaughter.

And somehow, I think the more we craft laws that are steeped in the emotion of high profile cases, the consequences won't be justice for all. It will be vengeance for the mob.

That's not justice for anyone.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Of mice and men and plans that go askew

You know how it goes, right?

You get an idea. Perhaps it is the best idea in the history of ideas, though you and just about everyone you have ever known sincerely doubts it. No matter. You have this idea and you must follow it until its bitter end — usually to a place called Harsh Reality.

If you could see me right now I'd be waving and drawing attention to myself.


I'm that person.

Rabid with ideas but completely insusceptible to inspiration.

Now, usually these notions are harmless. However sometimes they wake me up at night, which means they are likely waking my husband, too.

And that can be dangerous.

"Who died?"

"Nobody. I just had an idea. ... What if we were to have an art show for children and invite all the neighbors to submit their favorite pieces?”

"Sounds fine .... but it would sound even better sometime other than whatever ungodly hour it is right now. Go to sleep."

Ok ... That's not the best example.

A better one would be the time ... back in January ... when I was trying to keep the kids busy one winter vacation and thought it would be pretty awesome to make a Parade Dragon for Chinese New Year.

Neither fact that the Chinese New Year had already passed nor the reality that the winter months are not optimal for parading around in the Northeast could rain on my parade.

I had cardboard boxes. I had red paint. I had yards and yards of shimmery fabric, and most of all I had a cool idea for Peoples' Parade — an Independence Day extravaganza that brought out all the big-idea and little-idea people together in one place.

Most of all, I had six months to get it all together.

I could just see it play out:

Kids would come from all corners of the county to march to the beat of this drummer.

We'd line the driveway with kids gluing do-dads and twiddly bits and all manner of sparkly attachments to the miles of fabric our dragon would trail.

The kids, as kids are wont to do, would come up with their own labor-intensive additions. In our case, that entailed making dozens of dragon-shaped cookies to be handed out along the parade route.

“Oh ... this will be fun,” you think as you wonder if handing out homemade cookies during a parade is something that one might need a permit to do, or at least a brief but thorough inspection from the health department?

“No,” you answer, fingers crossed. “It's not as if we're selling anything.”

But alas your mind’s eye doesn’t have 20/20 vision:

Vacations. ... Holidays ... schedules ... never seem to match up.

Or that's what you tell yourself ... and the kids ... when folks start declining your invitation and you realize everyone is going to be busy that day doing something other than walking in a parade under a cardboard dragon.

Not that you lose hope. Not even when the kids, who called at the second-to-last minute to join in ... but changed their minds at the actual-last-minute. You know they made the decision BEFORE they saw you walking down the street with your box of Dayglo-colored fluff and your bags of individually-wrapped (and slightly over browned) sugar cookies.

That's just how it goes.

There's always room for improvement.

Something to think about, anyway. ...

For next year.

When your plans will be bigger and better than ever.

Little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

— Robert Burns'

Sunday, July 03, 2011

A mother's work is never done, but the cat's is always half finished

The cat skulked into our room just as the blue-speckled morning light inhaled its first breath of pink from the sun. No one paid any attention until she started to bray.

"Your turn," I say to the mountain of covers to my left. "I already handled a squirrel, two chipmunks and what I can only presume was a bird this week. I'm taking the morning off."

Grumbling a few words I can't make out, he then wordlessly pulls on a shirt and stalks downstairs. "Thank you," I chimed after him.

He passes Ittybit in the hallway, who was awakened by all the commotion.

"Where's he going?" she asks, scooping up the squalling mass of feline flesh as awkwardly as humanly possible. The animal stops yowling and resumes her usual calm demeanor.

In Ittybit's arms, our black, domestic short-haired is more of a rag doll. She just drapes over her arms like a limp rubber band, just barely elastic.

I don't get a chance to answer her question before a stream of expletives and a few Lords'-Names-in-Vain come charging up the stairs.


Curiosity may not have killed our cat, but it always gets the better of me.

"What did she kill?" I yell down, almost proudly.

"Nothing!' he replies, with all the excitement of an undertaker whose work just woke up. "She didn't KILL it. It's still alive and it's running around in the kitchen!"

When I reach the place where my coffee and toast are made, I find him inexplicably standing by the counter, hovering over the coffeemaker. I give him the benefit of the doubt: perhaps he's willing the technologically advanced water boiler to become a Haveaheart trap. Though I suspect he's more interested in getting a cup of caffeine to clear his mind, I say nothing. Helpful hints, at this point, would only be received as criticism.

"Coffee first. Then I'll think about what to do. It could be anywhere at this point."

He’d seen it scoot behind the dog food container and a case of bottled ice tea we store beside the refrigerator. All sorts of critters have gone back there, he figures, never to be seen again.

I couldn't wait.

I moved the containers and found the terrified chipmunk all curled up in a ball. No head nor tail visible in the shadows. On the counter above it I found a small movie popcorn box, saved for reuse because of its red-pin-stripe quaintness and lack of visible butter stains.

I grabbed it and bent to scoop up the cat's escaped snack, half expecting to force an adrenaline rush that would have us all chaotically chasing the rodent around the house.

Instead, the plan worked. Into the popcorn box it went without incident. It scrabbled around for a second and then settled back into its protective orb at the bottom of the container.

I headed for the great out of doors.

Ittybit wanted to help release the varmint, but minded my urgent request to feed the cat as a distraction. I promised I'd wait for her by the tree in front yard.

When she arrives I pour out the popcorn box, kernels, critter and all. For a long moment, the chipmunk crouched all stretched and low to the ground. Frozen. I fan the box in its direction and it skitters up the tree trunk. Ittybit follows, circling the tree and telling it all manner of helpful advice.

"Have a nice life."

"Be more careful."

"Stay away from cats. ... It's for your own good."

As she skipped around the tree — a first-grade Ann Landers in Hello Kitty pajamas — the rescued rodent chittered at her loudly.

She was delighted.

"You're welcome!"