Sunday, February 24, 2013

Could it have been something I said?


More commonly translated in prime time as: “Blankety-blank-blank ….bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!!!!”

Evidently, I had children … then became a truck driver.

That's what my husband likes to tell people, anyway.

It's true.

I could make a better effort to bury the unmentionable words in my vocabulary.

But I don't. Stubbing my toe. ... Stepping on a pointy building block in my bare feet. … Finding the bathroom toilet overflowing after a roll's worth of paper had been stuffed inside. … All of these occurrences seem appropriate reasons for inappropriate words.

I may not be able to knit yarn into a scarf, but I can knit together a stream of expletives that could make a teenager's hair curl.

It hadn't always been this way, although, over the years, it has ebbed and flowed.

There was a time in my life when I just didn't like the sound of swear words.

I blanched upon hearing them; wanted to crawl under the floorboards and disappear.

I was probably seven.

Of course, I outgrew it.

By the time I graduated from college I had not only earned a degree in Fine Art, I had gained mastery level skills in profanity.

Still, it was just another phase that would be sloughed off for self preservation (also known as trying to impress potential employers) as I was trying to feign adulthood.

By the time I got married I was almost tame, with only the most intentioned of lapses. Why, I'd even taken to flipping friends “The Wrong Finger” (index) for comic effect.

But then kids came along and somehow my nose must have grown so immense that I could no longer even see my mouth let alone watch it.


“You said a bad a word,” my kids sing in that accusatory tone no one (and I mean NO ONE) likes. Children are such goody-two-shoes. It's disgusting.

“There are no 'bad' words,” I insist. “There are just words that are inappropriate to use at certain times and under certain conditions.”

Such as when grandma is visiting.

Or during math class.

When you're at a play date at a friend's house. ... or just generally when any adult is potentially listening.

“You don't want to be that kid. … You know, the kind of kid who outs their parents as uncultured swine.”

“Or the kid no one invites back,” my daughter quips.

She's so smart.

Yet here we find ourselves, often in public, looking pink in the cheeks, wondering if we actually heard what we think we heard coming out of our cherubic kindergartener's mouth.

“What did you say?” I'll ask incredulously then quickly add “we don't use words like that” so the lady to behind us in line knows how perfectly I parent.

To which he'll laugh,“Yeah, right. Remember when you burned your hand this morning on the frying
pan? What did you say?”

“Fudge puddles? I believe I said 'Fudge puddles.”

“Might have been Cheez-its?

“Oh, oh, wait … I know … It was Smothers Brothers!!!”

He just shook his head.

The lady behind us changed lines.

I'm sure it couldn't have been anything I said.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Don't fear the cycle of the snake, fear the recycling of the dragon

Chinese New Year slithered in this week to my children's delight.

All week long Ittybit has been studying the customs and traditions that cycle and weave and undulate and blast into colorful orbit around Chinese communities worldwide. She scours the internet looking for creations, foods and fireworks.

She slides the screen of her tablet, searching through parades in China, Philadelphia and Chicago for inspiration.

She stops on a page adorned with a snake – the animal of the year -- as I read over her shoulder …

“Huh … it's actually the year of the Black Water Snake to be specific,” I point to the small print.

“That's cool, I guess,” she says, wishing I would go haunt her brother.

“Did you know that the snake is a sign of flexibility and strength?”

“Yes. I see that,” she answers, annoyed at my continuing intrusion.

“And that a water snake is a sign of financial prosperity?”

“I don't know … that might be canceled out by the color black, seeing as how that makes it all a bit murky. Like you can't see it at the bottom of the water.”

“Not to mention the black mamba … Now that's a deadly snake!”

“MOM! Shussh! You're going to scare dad!”

To say he's not fond of serpents is an understatement.

Whether one needs to be taken out of the pool filter or used to clear a drain matters not – He refuses to handle either.

But snake or dragon, tiger or rabbit, even he admits the Lunar New Year is a colorful, other-worldly, 15-day experience that makes the western celebration of lowering a crystal ball in the dark of night seem anemic on the verge of bloodless.

Just the passing of time with corporate sponsors.

Ittybit is especially excited for this New Year, since her class is celebrating with a party and sample platter of foods. The fact that she and her classmates mostly fall into the category of Black Water Sheep did little to dampen her excitement at being able to label her brother a Red Fire Pig and point to Chinese astrological charts as evidence.

Perhaps what delights her most -- and what she relishes revealing to teachers and friends – are the Brown Earth Monkey-like antics of her dear-old-mother the year we made a cardboard parade dragon one winter break two Februaries ago. And how we completed it just in time for the town's annual People's Parade parade in July.

The way she explains, however, hinges on the following year, in which parade patriarchs put forth a proclamation reminding residents to highlight their favorite AMERICAN traditions as part of the Independence Day procession.

“She may throw monkey-wrenches into the works, but she means well,” their father laughs, before reconsidering: “Hey! Wait a minute … how did I end up having to dance with the head of the dragon down main street?”

I shrug. So I confused the Melting Pot imagery with Independence Day. It happens.

Ittybit laughs.

“Oh, yeah. That was hilarious.”

“You know what's going to be even more hilarious? … When mom brings it to school so you and your friends can dance with it through the hallways … ”

Ittybit stops laughing.

“But … She recycled it.”

“If by RECYCLE you mean she's out there right now stuffing it into the trunk of the car? Then yes. She's recycling it.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

One-dog wrecking crew

The damage was shocking.

It must have been a freak storm that upended the house, sending it toppling off its multi-colored brick foundation into the neighboring structure.

A straight-line wind of sorts must have swept through the hallway, ignored the recycling ready for transport to its next incarnation, ruffled piles of newly laundered duds awaiting new assignments in various bureaus upstairs, and barreled through the little Levittown that had sprung up on the living room floor.

I'd just left for a moment or two – time enough to get a cup of coffee and a cruller – planning to return to the building site refreshed and re-caffeinated.

Instead, I walked in on chaos.

What had been as fine an example of LEGO architecture as an untrained playhouse builder could muster was now a pile of rubble.

The Champ was blinking in disbelief amid the devastation. His mouth was arrested soundlessly in the likely processing of a vowel. … But he didn't cry.

He choked out one word:

“Rose,” fingering the most likely suspect.

The dog was nowhere to be found.

Or at least that was what she wanted us to believe.

She was probably hiding in her “room” – lounging amid the remnants of the children's wrecked toys – waiting for her name to be linked together with a reprimand and chain of muddled expletives.

In fact, I've often find her in her “safe place” whenever I return and find bits of this or pieces of that – sometimes recognizable items that have been chewed into an unsalvageable pulp.

It's not her fault. She's just a dog, who, left to her own devices will get into mischief if not properly supervised. I know I shouldn't really blame her … though I do, whether it's her fault or not.

For instance:

“Ma-uhmmmm,” said The Champ, three hours before the Super Bowl caused him to remember he was once the proud owner of a fist-sized Nerf football, and wouldn't-it-be-fun-to-play-football-in-the-house. “Hey, I can't find my football,” he said, which all mothers know is code for “Find it for meeeeeeee! Now! please?”

“You mean the one I snuck into the yard sale box while you were busy selling lemonade to the neighbors last summer?” Come on. I'd never be crazy enough to say aloud in a million years. “Oh, sorry bud. The dog chewed it up,” I said instead.

What? She's not going to say anything. And besides with all the toys I've patted her head for pre-chewing before the dustpan cycle, I feel a little guilty chastising her for laying waste to the boy's plastic village.

It's not as if she breathes fire.

She's just a little overzealous – the bull in the china shop kind, not the oversized lizard in Tokyo variety.

The Champ gets it. He realizes she can't help herself.

She's eaten so many kitchen sponges, blocks, socks, books, pencils, pens, markers, crayons, stuffed animals, paintbrushes, pillows, lunch boxes, mini guys, frilly dolls, toilet paper rolls, bathmats, rugs, magazine covers, balls of yarn … not to mention food items that have no place in her canine diet … even the boy realizes she has a compulsion.

He closes his mouth and shrugs.

He begins to pick up the pieces of his leveled LEGO landmarks: the “Leaning Tower of Pizza,” the “Gwen Ifill Tower,” “The Outer Space Needle” that we actually got to visit when we went to “see Attle.”

“Hey! These are hardly chewed at all,” he exclaims with relief.

“That's progress.”

And from her room, I could hear the thump, thump, thump of a tail.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Never quite finished

I didn't hear the knock at the door, or feel the icy wind as it opened. I was preoccupied.

Inside the warmth of my home office, I was hunched over the desk working feverishly on birthing a baby.

Fabric, stuffing and yarn were all I required, but this new creation wasn't without pain or blood, as I continually pricked my inexpert fingers trying to secure the yarn wig to the baby doll's noggin.

“How many does that make,” asked my dad, as he stood in my mudroom and released his no-legged little dog. Lately he's been dropping by to let my furry niece have tucker-herself-out play dates with her slightly, older, minutely wiser cousin.

“Five,” I said with an audible sigh. “Each one slightly worse than the next.”

“Maybe I should have gotten you that Cabbage Patch Doll you said you would never want in a million years,” he laughed.

The hounds barreled past me, chasing each other's tails, diving over chairs and under tables, upending some of the less substantial furnishings, and rousting the cat in their race toward the kitchen.

I barely registered the commotion.

I was obsessed.

Five Waldorf-style dolls, all of relatively similar size, shape and coloring, sat on my desk in various states of finish. Some had hair and homemade clothes. Others were still waiting to have their arms and legs attached. Only their naked, expressionless faces still waited for features.

I had intended to make one – for a neighbor's child, who is having her first birthday party – almost on a whim. I had also intended to fail in that endeavor and buy a “real toy” at a toy store before the big day.

But somehow the first one didn't look half bad. … And then I realized giving her away would be like giving away my firstborn. …

So I had to make another. … And like any mother who experiences the true joy of childbirth, wants to experience it again.

But there was a rub.

My success in making these dolls look like dolls and not sad, lumpy pillows that had sprouted pointy, lopsided appendages did not sharpen my confidence in finishing them.

One misplaced stitch would likely put a look of snark on her otherwise cherubic face. Whatever the expression my needle and floss would provide, I imagined, would certainly take away the mystery.

I waved my father away.

“I'm not ready for visitors just yet. Why don't you go and brew yourself a cup of coffee. I'll be out in a minute.”

One more pass of the sewing machine over a plait of yarn and the last doll would at least have hair if not a hair-raising expression.

My father banged around in the kitchen a bit as the dogs banged around the living room.

I had done as much as I had nerves to do. I joined him in the kitchen, brewed myself a cup of coffee and stood amid the clammer of dogs.

“Finished?” he asked.

“I don't know how to finish,” I said a little too abruptly. … “It's crazy, but I'm afraid of messing them up.”

“All parents are. ... All parents are.”