Sunday, March 01, 2015

High points and Lowes points


It starts innocently enough. Dolls sit prettily, if un-played with, in a tidy row on a shelf. Other beloved interests follow suit, becoming opaque or waning altogether. Each past-time is slowly replaced by something that dances across a computer screen. It's "future" time.

There are uncomfortable questions, but even more alarming are the uncomfortable silences. Closed doors, loud music, laundry in heaps.

Even though I'd barely noticed I'd been ending most of our communications with “… in that mess you call a room,” I am not blind to the fact that she is growing up.

Frightening, really.

But the terror of all terrors – the moment I've been dreading for SIX YEARS – arrived with a request and a ceremonious presentation of the latest Pottery Barn catalog …

“Pleeeeeeease, mom ….”

Did I mention the puppy dog eyes?

“I can't stand pink.”

Of course I knew this would happen. From the moment she picked the Pepto-Bismol colored paint when she was five, I knew there would come a day that same hue would turn her stomach. Every time we pulled into the driveway at night and her walls winked at us from the corner of the house – “Oh look, Ittybit's home,” I would say with sarcasm, a reprimand for not turning off her lights -- I knew I was just one more snide remark closer to a trip to the paint store.

“You realize what this means,” I said with a sigh …

She looked hopeful …

“You will have to clean your room …

“And be nice to your brother …

“And put away the laundry …

“And turn off your lights …

“And pave the driveway …

“Is that it?”

“Oh … and bring about world peace. That's all.”

She squealed and jumped up and down.

Seems silly, I know. But EVERYONE hated that pink. House-guests who were unlucky enough to arrive after the lumpy couch in the living room and the low-rise bed in the drafty sewing room had been snapped up by other visitors would require sunglasses and cocktails to fall asleep in the electric-colored room.

Everyone except for me. I didn't hate the pink.

When I looked in her room, it wasn't the mountain of toys or tangle of clothes that made me sigh. It was the memory of a five-year-old girl who had helped paint every single wall, visible brush strokes and all.

Deep breath. “What is this going to involve?”

She dove right in ... She searched through paint samples, floor plans and fabric swatches. She found light fixtures and room accessories one Google search at a time. Finally, she came up with a proposal I couldn't refuse:

Paint. Move furniture. Make curtains. Dust hands.

And so, when the fateful day arrived – a day that happened to coincide with the last weekend of the winter break and a sub-arctic temperatures – the three of us traipsed off to the hardware store and watched, in rapt silence, as the clerk mixed up a gallon of “Mexicali Turquoise.”

Back at home, the kids jumped around the supplies in excitement.

The rules were reiterated: No whining. No fighting. No horseplay. I WILL need many coffee breaks. And the first person who doesn't listen and/or follow directions is going to have to just sit here and watch paint dry.

There was a roller lesson: “Roll letters on the walls – W and Y works best.”

There was a brush lesson: “Dip the brush halfway, and then scrape both sides against the inside lip of the cup.”

And there was the “Uh-Oh” tutorial: “Keep looking at the floor. If you see a drip, use a damp rag to wipe it up.”

I couldn't stall any longer.

Two and three-quarter hours later – the walls (and parts of the ceiling ... and a few dots on the floor) were a glorious and refreshing shade of blue.

As we stepped back and surveyed our work, I could see Ittybit was giddy. But she could tell I was a little disappointed.

“What's wrong,” she asked wearily.

“Nothing. I just noticed I can't see any visible brush strokes.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Quid pro quo

People for Less Unrest in Marriage (PLUM) -- a completely imaginary think tank developed and contained within the folds of my mind – launched its first semi-actual civic organization, The Train Robber Identification Posse (heretofore known as TRIP).

TRIP held its inaugural meeting last week at a local dining establishment a few towns over, down by the train tracks. Two founding members were present.

Drinks and appetizers were called to order at around 7:45. Parking issues related to three-foot snow banks caused a 15-minute delay in the projected official start time. No officers were elected. However, it was agreed that all dues should be split equitably between the members.

The origin of TRIP was spontaneous and in direct response to its members' significant others' membership in the completely real (if not somewhat unbelievable) civic organization, The Society for the Detection of Horse Thieves, which, for the past 182 years has met annually for the purpose of hobnobbing, eating crustless sandwiches and drinking Manhattans and only incidentally talking about matters of equine importance.

The fact that the Society has not been called upon to track down an actual horse thief in 88 years is beside the point. The fact that members of the Society might spend as many as 10 hours, on a perfectly good Saturday, engaging in frivolity with people who have no impact on their laundry piles, not to mention the perceived lack of quid pro quo … well, that is the point.

What?! We're not proud. We're in need of a timeout and a reason to wear mascara.

Not that TRIP will ever have much in the way of new business.

Turns out most U.S. train robberies reported to authorities since the 1930s were probably fraternity pranks.

And although the restaurant was located within at least 500 yards of fully operational train tracks, not a single train passed the entire length of the confab.

The majority of TRIP's inaugural meeting – which spanned one bottle of Prosecco, a series of appetizers, and two delicious entrees – was spent in the discussion of Old Business, which was held in Executive Session, the minutes of which are not matter of public record). Future meeting options and the prospect of increasing membership were also discussed.

A change of venue was suggested midway through the meeting (at the same time waitstaff began stacking chairs and mopping under tables), seconded and voted unanimously in the affirmative.

The meeting moved to a public house nearby, wherein entertainments might have included a gas fire, a game of checkers, locally brewed craft beers and a mature band performing a lively selection of tracks from the John Hughes classic, “The Breakfast Club.”

Or maybe not … We plan to be liberal with our use of Executive Session.

The next meeting of the Train Robber Identification Posse will likely take place within the next a lunar cycle. Topics open for discussion include: the inclusion of a Train Robbery Movie Trivia round robin, the discussion of any interactions with famous people who played famous train robbers (including Butch Cassidy or the Sundance Kid), and the adoption of an official libation.

The “Train Wreck” sounds like a likely candidate.

All those in favor say, “Ay.”

All opposed? Just you hold your horses.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dieter's dilemma

She didn't even sense the danger as she sat there in the living room, dipping her hand into an open bag of snacks.

Over and over again, the sounds kept amplifying in my mind: Crinkle, crinkle, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.

My nose twitched; my mouth watered; my hands clenched into a fist.

I had to do something – anything – Lest I ambush my daughter for the salty dust at the bottom of the bag.

“Fruit bowl,” I remind myself. “Eat a banana.”

Three weeks ago I would have ridiculed her taste in snacks. In fact, I probably have said things to the effect that she was being hoodwinked by corporate marketing. Eating broken bits of pretzel, heavily coated in sugar and spice, as the result of some corporate wiz-kid's suggestion someone sweep crumbs into a bag and sell them at a premium.

But, in a moment of weakness after 21 days of eating nothing but meat and eggs and kale, I might fight the cat for the mini-marshmallow she's been batting around under the table.

I knew this would happen.

Dieting not only makes people crazy, it makes them boring and rude to the point of fanaticism.

Can't go to restaurants. Can't go to dinner parties. Can't have normal conversations without turning them toward your newly adopted philosophy of food.

Don't believe me? Ask someone on a diet if they would like a slice of chocolate ganache covered decadence? Even a once-in-a-lifetime experience is offered by a royal chef, the woeful dieter will not only decline, but give you the full rundown of all the things they can't possibly eat, and all the ailments each ingredient could cause them if they “cheat.”

“All you do is talk about this crazy diet,” said someone I dearly love, who was gently trying to intervene. “You can't even lick your fingers when you make me a peanut butter sandwich.”

I hang my head in shame.

It's true.

The diet I was on before this one included going out to dinner but never ordering a meal because I KNEW at least two members of our entourage would never-in-a-million-years eat all of their French fries and chicken fingers.

Of course, later, once everyone else had gone to bed, I'd be hungry and watching late-night TV so I would find my way to the bottom of an ice cream carton with a spoon.

But as much as I hate the way I feel after I polish off a pint of espresso chip, I miss the creamy taste coating my mouth as it disappeared down my gullet. I kind of hate the person who came to replace her. The one who can only talk about all the food she's not eating.

Part of the problem is that I have lost 10 pounds. And, for the most part, I feel good.

“When are you coming back to us,” asks Iittybit. “When are you giving up this stupid diet? It's no fun eating pie by ourselves.”

“Ten days,” I tell them. “In 10 day I'll eat pie. But only one slice.”

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Ski bummer

I lovehate the family ski weekend.

The second annual of which swooshed down its southern Vermont mountain of ice and gale-force winds this past weekend.

I love it because it puts me in the direct vicinity of the 30 or so wonderful folks who make up my extended family. And I hate it because, unlike the majority of them, skiing isn't my strong suit.

I'll just come right out and say it: I'm jealous.

Oh sure, I sat in the lodge, conversing with all the other folks who had done the math and come up with a negative 25 degree windchill equaling at least minor frostbite if not total doom, but I was a little sad every time one of my clan came in red-faced and panting, looking for someone brave enough to go back out into the world.

Obviously wasn't me.

Well … ok … it wasn't OBVIOUS … I was wearing a ski jacket and talking a good game about the past three years, which have been my skiing-est years on record.

I've gone down many a bunny hills alongside my children, practicing our pizzas and french fries until we are ready for lunch, after which we all had the courage to brave the lift and traverse the greenest of all the green trails.

I am always the least ready.

“I can get down the mountain,” I tell people, “but it isn't going to be pretty … and it isn't going to be fast.”

That's not to say I don't pat myself on the back for making the attempt. Powdery snow and zero-drop hills have given me olympic-sized delusions about my abilities.

“I find it easier to downhill ski than cross country,” I pontificated to I don't know how many kind people. It felt true at the time. Nordic skiing on hills was always a struggle. Out there in the alpine, stopping was easier, turning was easier, I didn't fall nearly as much.

Of course what I didn't understand, and what I still struggle to do, is get better.

I tell myself I will practice during the week … when rates are cheaper and there were be fewer people to avoid as I careen down the mountain as slowly as possible.

But it won't matter.

All the gains in confidence doing run after run at one resort will be undone in an instant as I fall spout over tea kettle time after time at another.

Failure tastes like ice and tears stinging your face. Failure feels like snow in your boots.

I wish I didn't want to do this.

I wish I could happily go shopping with the other non-skiing members of our clan during the interim.

I wish I could relax at the lodge with a book by the fireplace. That is where my mind tells me I belong.

But gas flames and retail therapy can't cover up the fact that I want to be out there with them. Following down the mountain, gracefully, shifting from one side to the other.

Even if I can't possibly keep up.

I know I can't get there by wishing. If I want to be a ski bum next year, this year I have to stop being a ski bummer.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Bricks and mortar

She huffed and puffed and rolled her eyes but alas, her mother had become a brick house. Immovable.

“You're so mean!” the little wolf screamed as she stormed off, slamming doors as she went.

The walls trembled with each clattering thud.

The Pig just returned to the task at hand: slathering peanut butter on whole wheat sandwich bread, dutifully cutting the crusts off and making a hammer-shaped impression with a cookie-cutter.

“At least the boy, still piglet-like, is easily pleased,” she told herself, sealing the luncheon craftwork in a re-closable plastic bag and nestling it in among a banana and packet of fruit jells.

She had to admit, as a mother, she'd been dreading this moment.

Even though she'd been talking about it non-stop since her eldest was born -- a tiny little piglet, with a perfect little nose and ten little piggy toes – she wasn't prepared for the shift.

And now it was here. The emergence of strange shapes. Hair and angle in places that had been plump and pink. The low growl. The quick bark. The baring of teeth over so little provocation.

The change.

Mother and daughter. When did we become such strange creatures to one another?

Yesterday, I think? Last week.

“I know what I'm supposed to be doing,” she'll bark. “You don't have to keep REMINDING meeeee!”

Until I don't remind her. Then the tune changes:

“Why didn't you TELL me it was time for the bus? Now I'm going to be late and it's ALL. YOUR. FAULT!”

Honestly, I don't take it personally.

Oh sure, there are times the hair raises on the back of my neck and I bark back. But I know who I am. An adult. With an adult perspective on what it takes for a being to grow up.

I can't help but think of my own parents – my mother especially – and feel a sense of solidarity but not remorse. I can not be sorry. This is what has to happen. I know that, too.

I find it strange and comforting how we have to build our houses, all the same.

We're so busy doing other things, we tend to forget we've built our starter homes out of straw. But we are young. When the first strong wind knocks it down, we fortify it with sticks.

There's a point, of course, that we mourn for the loss of our cool, straw abode. It was light and airy, and sweetly fragrant. It would have been so quaint to raise children here. To bad the kids are allergic to the tall grasses.

The stick house seems better when the kids are toddling about. Marking up the walls with their crayons and your permanent markers. You just shave off little bits and everything's good as new.

But eventually even that wears thin. You hate saying no. But it strengths the house.

Then the teenagers move in with their sullen faces and alienating anthems. They are testing the waters right now, deciding which shade of black fits them best.

You, dear Pig, are merely part of the furnishings. Someone who makes the lunches.

You just need a thicker skin.

Yes … Brick-and-mortar … that's your best defense.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Grub kind of rhymes with Ugh

I grunted.

Couldn't help it. Honestly. 

There we were, waiting in line at a sandwich shop for an out-of-the-ordinary, mid-week lunch date with my girl.

Clearly, I wasn't myself.

She eyed me suspiciously.

“Why are you ordering salad?”

“Because I want it,” I lied.

She wasn't buying it. Especially after I asked for a few lemon wedges instead of ranch dressing.

“It's because dad's all gung-ho on his resolution to lose weight, isn't it?”

“No!” I drawl, sounding like a petulant child. “It has nothing to do with him.”

She just leaned back and grinned.

“Just because he's tightened up one belt loop doesn't mean … Oh, never mind.”

Stupid, smart kids. Of course, I'm jealous.

The man stops eating one bowl of ice cream per night and jogs around the bedroom while he watches a half-hour of Netflix, and he loses 10 pounds in a week. I run 15 miles a week for a year and gain three pounds.

Maybe that's why I've gotten a notion in my mind that the weight he loses will somehow find its way to me … as if fat were an element on the periodic table that can't be decomposed by either physical or chemical means.

It's just floating in the house somewhere, waiting for me to let down my guard. And when I do, all havoc will break loose … Ketchup won't be a vegetable, and broken cookies will pack twice the caloric punch, not the half I'd always been calculating, on account of the missing crumbs.

See, this is what dieting does to me.

Shhhhh. I know that's crazy talk. You don't have to rub it in.

And I know … I don't like that D word, either.

Diets. They never work. Especially not when the word is defined as a "plan of caloric intake reduction so as to achieve a desired number on a scale," which is significantly lower than the number currently mocking you whenever you step on the infernal device.

For as long as I can remember, I've used the term as a way to express the dietary habits of a particular species. For instance, in my case – a middle-aged suburban homo sapiens – a typical diet consists of bread, cheese, sugary things and liberal amounts of a certain caffeinated beverage. This diet is randomly supplemented with heartily-consumed salads containing at least a week's worth of calories in the dressings alone, but we only record the first part of the latter.

Oh right ... it also consists of eating popcorn for dinner when I'm the only one home.

But now that my husband has embraced this plan of eating like a Neanderthal … You know ... the species of creature that safely grazes along the outer ring of the supermarket, where its food is free-range and organically grown. It NEVER wanders into the center aisles where the Oreos and Fruit Loops live. Those things will KILL you.

Makes sense, right? Well, it made sense on December 31st when we were all too veshnookered to think straight. But the next day, I sobered up enough to rationalize a life without cheese, wine or espresso chip ice cream might not be worth living.

Of course, all that was before the big, protruding-forehead guy who lives in our house lost a pant size.

So help me, if I end up finding his pant size taking up residence in my closet, my new diet will include twigs and nuts and berries and organically-raised beef sliders with capers and caramelized onion between two slices of roasted sweet potato, too.

You know … just like the cavemen.

Sunday, January 18, 2015



Bat, bat, bat. Purrrrrrrrrr.

It starts with soft paws at first, then a sandpapery tongue.

Can you feel it? A warm, fluffy kitten sitting on top of your chest as the soft light of a cold January morning filters in through the curtains?

Yeah … Neither can I.

Honestly, I WISH a warm circle of fur purring under my chin was my new wake up call.

It's still dark when that alarm sounds.

First there's a truncated bark. Just a yip, really, and then a thud followed by the skittering of many claws. More barking. More skittering. And an avalanche of quadrupeds tumbles downstairs into separate corners.

I am not fully awake – haven't even opened my eyes – but I can guess what's been happening in the dark. “Old Cat” has had enough of "New Cat's" antics, and "Deputy Dawg" – the self-appointed sheriff for these here parts – is laying down the law.

I reach for my phone. It's 4 a.m. There's no hitting snooze on this skirmish, either. There is no way the volleys would be evenly spaced nine minutes apart. Once waged, this war will last until kibble is spilled.


Daggers of cold stab at my knees when my heels touch the floor.


Of course, this isn't an alarm. It's become routine, like a possessed cuckoo clock bestowed by a doddery old aunt. A new surprise is waiting every hour on the hour, beginning four minutes after my head hits the pillow, which is a full seven minutes after my husband has entered REM sleep.

First it's the barking. A yip you ignore, hoping the dog will settle and go to sleep.

“What does she want?” my husband will ask me accusingly. As if I understand Dog but refuse to speak it, thereby making him an unwilling emissary to the animal kingdom.

“The dog wants to go out.”

What? Of course I speak dog.

So, down the stairs I go ... dink, dink, dinkdinkdink … and let the dog out.

Ten minutes later … Back up the stairs …. dink, dink, dinkdinkdink. Back into bed.

I am wide awake. The dog gets a slobbery drink and circles from one room to another, deciding where she will hunker down for the first watch. This means I have to distract her until the children fall off to sleep. I will have to stay awake.

The girl has already closed her door to the pitter-patter of furry feet.

Oh, it was cute at first … The way the New Cat wanted to snuggle up and sleep among the toys. Until she displaced Old Cat and found that stuffing was delightful to pluck out of plush victims.

And can you guess where the dog wants to be? … Of course, you can.

“But Mom! … I can't sleep when they are in my room. The dog lays on my feet, and the kitten tries to eat my hair. It's TORTURE!”

The boy doesn't want them either. “The kitten jumps onto my curtains and the dog chews up my dinosaurs.”

So I wait and try to appease the quadrupeds until sleep comes for the children, and I can open their bedroom doors a smidge.

I don't feel bad about my deception. They sleep like the dead, but I sleep like the undead.