Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sigh. Boys Can Be So Dumb...

How is it that young men can be so clueless? Earlier this year at a shop, the manager and I began to talk about girls and boys and the pains they undergo in their early dating relationships. The woman was just flustered. Her granddaughter is a particularly beautiful young girl--stunningly so. The girl had been hoping that the boy she carpooled with would ask her to the school dance. Long story short, he did call her--to get her advice on how he should ask out another girl. The grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, counseled the girl that these things happened when she herself was a girl, too. Boys can be a little short-sighted, she said. But the woman and I just shrugged. I'll never understand it myself. Boys can do many strange things.

This past year, one of my step-daughters was invited on a date by a man in his mid-twenties--old enough to be more mature, right? When she arrived at the theater to meet him, he told her to wait and that he was getting them free tickets from his pal in the projection booth. The whole thing felt very juvenile as he scampered off. Mae told me that even if he was so cash strapped he couldn't afford tickets, he could have at least procured them discreetly before her arrival without looking like a kid about to rip off a candy store. Mae gave him a chance at a second date and then ended things. The ticket incident had only been a red flag about his lack of maturity with other choices.

Mae's sister Juju was flustered over bizarre behavior herself at least a few times this year. "If everything is going well and we are having fun together, why does the guy suddenly drop off the planet?" She has asked this question more than once. I told her that often, the guys act according to what they think their friends will approve. And it's disgusting, really, as I see the sweetest (and prettiest) of young ladies get their hearts broken. I told her that sometimes the guys come to their senses, but more importantly we need to just move along and forget about them.

Easier said than done. In high school, before my date and I were old enough to drive to a dance, my date told me he wanted to rent a limo to take me to the prom. This was a new concept in my parents' world and they said no. My dad offered to drive us. The boy was too cool for this, so he dumped me instead. I'll never forget that feeling, and my parents, of course, were wise enough to tell me the boy was not worth my time if he were to treat me that way, but I didn't believe it. I had to learn it over and over. Apparently, I was 35 before I really learned it.

Over the years, I was dumped for not being a heavy drinker (at least twice). I was ignored because I wasn't in a sorority (countless young men in college years). I was treated badly for wanting to talk about the last book I read (Harry the Jock). I was cast aside or treated shabbily for many unknown reasons. I remember why I initiated my break ups as well: one young man had a terrible case of pathological lying, another was consistently 45 minutes late for each date and entirely rude about it each time (oh, that would also be Harry), and other dates just never "gelled" comfortably. I do remember one very nice boy that I said I couldn't see again because he stared at me the entire time and it was so off-putting--while he was driving, while I was watching a movie, while I was eating. I have never quite had anyone do that so blatantly. It's like he couldn't believe he was actually with a live, two-legged, teenaged female. There are the break ups for reasons you know, but the worst ones, like Juju says, are the ones that leave great questions.

Once, I was hopelessly in love with a potter that kinda-sorta wanted to be with me--but I wasn't allowed to receive any affection in public or meet his friends. I was lovesick, clingy, and even more hopeless and pathetic when he suddenly fell off the planet. I actually looked him up on Facebook one day to tell him, because I believe I had been a bit of a stalker, that I was sorry for not having just broken things off cleanly. The response was surprising. "I'm the one that should apologize," he wrote, "for having been less than mature." He said kind things, remembered me far more kindly than I thought possible, and wished me well. He and his wife have just had their second little boy this year.

Maybe, there is hope for some young men after all.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Simple Procedures? Not with Children!

When rearing children, everything is a project. I'll never know why, but following simple procedures is beyond the still-developing minds of the very young. Take, for example, trying to leave the house with children.

The other day, I told my eleven year old what time it was, what she needed to do to be ready for riding lessons, and what time we were leaving. (Sounds organized--doesn't it?) My son should have been less complicated; all he needed was his shoes. Instead, this is what happened:

"Tiny? Tiny. What are you doing? Put that down. Clean that up. Where are your shoes? Are those your shoes? Behind you, where you have been playing. Those? All mixed up with your toys? Put your shoes on. No, put that down. Get your shoes. No, son, other foot. No, that shoe. Okay, finish putting on your shoes. Come downstairs when you have cleaned up your mess."

Meanwhile, his sister walked the house in riding breeches and stockinged feet, saying, "I can't find my helmet. It's not in the silver tub."
"I know it's not in the silver tub, sweetheart. It doesn't belong there. Go check your room."
"But it was in the silver tub!"
"It was not in the silver tub and doesn't belong there. Go check your room."
"I checked my room. It's not there!"
"So go check the car, then." Chicken Little headed to the SUV and explored the trunk and recesses under the back seat bench. Meanwhile, this was now taking place:

"Tiny, choose one toy to take with you. No. One. One toy. I see you have two. Fork over the one in your shirt. Hand it to Mommy." Tiny held his ground, one Transformer toy clutched in his hand and the other clumsily concealed in his shirt. (Mind you sometimes he shoves things in his pants and I have to frisk him before we leave a store.) With no cooperative movement from my son, I began the count. "One." Still he stood feet planted and fingers clenched about the two toys. "Two." He stared back unblinking.
"Three. Time out. Go to your room." Crying, tears, and the usual, "Whhhhhyyyyyyyy?" As he headed upstairs, my daughter came back into the house and said she couldn't find her helmet.

"Oh, dude. You lost your helmet. Geez. Ok, maybe it's at the ranch." The price of a new helmet ran through my head briefly. "Just go check your room one more time. That is where your helmet belongs."
"But--"
"Just do it. Go on. Check again to be sure."

Eventually, my daughter came downstairs with her helmet that had been hanging on her bedroom wall the entire time. She showed it to me sheepishly. You can't miss the helmet; it sports a lime-green and polka-dotted cover. So, helmet in hand, daughter's boots pulled on, we called down the little guy, and he showed me he was ready with his one toy (and nothing shoved up his shirt or down his pants). As the kids headed to the car to climb in, I turned to Juju who had been calmly observing the circus from her safe position on the couch and I said, "Do you see why I am exhausted before I even get out the door? Why does everything have to be a project?"

My days of simple exits and entrances are over for still another few years. There's fooling with the booster seats and the untwisting seat belts; reminders of retrieving book bags, lunch boxes, permission slips, and sports equipment; making sure the little guy doesn't get his fingers or toes slammed in the car door by his sister; making sure neither vacuous child gets hit by a car while entering or exiting my vehicle; stopping the arguing over who touched whose toy in the back seat. What kills me is when I am told I will miss these days. I was told that when my kids were babies, too. No, with those days done, I do not miss them. And as much as I adore my children, I won't miss trying to get them out of the house on time either.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ponies in the Ring

Last week during my riding lesson, I paused to watch a young rider attempt to wrangle her pony into a more cooperative state. It seems that Blue didn't want to jump. His rider managed to stay mounted despite his last-minute balks and halts before the stacked and layered obstacles, but she still needed assistance. So in an attempt to reassure the pony, I was asked to sit with my horse in the middle of the ring, where Blue knew we would be watching. Moral support, from pony to pony so to speak. In the world of horses, social relationships are often as complex as our own, and I can truly say from experience that regardless of species, similar souls comfort one another in difficult situations.

This past weekend, my ex-husband and his wife came to our town for the first time. With my daughter finishing fifth grade and beginning middle school in the fall, celebration among family was essential. While I was thrilled that the father of my children would finally come see where and how his children live, I was stressed that he and his wife would find fault with things when they got here. I worked to make sure that they would be comfortable and attended details such as tourism guides, restaurant and hotel recommendations, and arrangements for a family lunch.  These are people with whom I share difficult history, but I am tied to them, and if they came and had a wonderful time, they would continue to return and share in the life that my children have here. This is what I want for my children, a growing relationship with their dad, a secure place in the heart of their step-mother, a comfort zone of approachability for times when discussion, advice, or negotiation of some sort is necessary.



Having the company of my family helped me feel better--cognizant, calm, graceful. Their steady presence helped make this visit with my children's dad and step-mother a successful one. Having cleared this hurdle gracefully and landed safely on the other side, I can approach the next visit with more confidence. To my husband and Juju, thank you. Thank you for being my ponies in the ring.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rabbit Schemes

The rabbit, Chester, has been having a visitor who leaves minuscule droppings about the deck. I was amused by this until I found those tiny droppings peppering the feed tray of the rabbit cage. I asked the rabbit what was going on, but apparently hare-lipped creatures aren't loose-lipped, so I discussed the matter with a neighbor who suggested installing a "bunny cam" so we could track the goings-on between critters. Instead, my children and I researched the feces (mouse) and, much to the amusement of my husband and Jujubee, I set a trap baited with peanut butter. What I would do with the mouse, I really didn't know.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" asked Chester as I carefully lay the cage-style trap near his house.
"Absolutely. Someone's pooping in your food. We can't have that."
"I can work around it," he said, "In fact, I have been working around it quite nicely!"
"Not an option, Rabbit," I stated firmly.
He hopped into the far corner of his cage to clean his ears and sulk. I began to suspect that the mouse was part of an organized movement to free the rabbit, whom we keep in an enclosed environment for his own safety--we have hawks here.

Dudley, temporarily trapped
Just before my bedtime Sunday night, I checked the trap. Inside, trembling, wide-eyed, and absolutely confused, scurried a little brown field mouse. I held the critter's cage up to the light and admired him with my family. His large, floppy ears and shiny, dark eyes reminded us a bit of Desperaux. His white, full belly showed all the signs of a rich and limitless diet of rabbit food. After we discussed a range of options, Jujubee dubbed the critter Dudley and we decided to give the tiny rodent a new station in life altogether. At 11 PM, we drove him  four blocks away in the cover of darkness to a large church and released the beast in a garden there. The newly-appointed church mouse eagerly scurried among mulch and shrubbery to embrace his new career, rabbit-liberating a suddenly very distant thought in his head.

At home, standing sentry on a neighbor's lawn as my step-daughter and I returned with the empty cage, stood   another of Rabbit's associates, a wild cotton-tail with white flecks across his brown body. Surely, we had thwarted some kind of plan. I set the trap one more time in hopes of capturing any siblings that we could take to the mouse's new home and away from scheming with Chester... and pooping everywhere. Checking on our pet bunny early this morning, he refused to speak to me. But after I came home from morning errands, the cage held a new captive. This time, I had managed to capture a chipmunk. Chester sat smugly.

"They'll just keep coming," he said, "I have connections."
"I bet," I mused as I observed this new little friend. He sat smartly striped and fidgeted. I noted that he ate all the peanut butter that last night's mouse could no longer muster an appetite for. Like Dudley, the chipmunk will be released, but back into the yard because the most trouble he ever really causes is eating the fallen fruit from the trees and leaving pits scattered about the sidewalk. I think my job is done and I can replace the trap in its box back in the shed.

Meanwhile, Rabbit will need a Plan B. His last escape attempt, which I stopped when I found him loose and pretending to be a statue on the back deck, only drove him to recruit assistance. I wonder if he'll stoop so low as to involve the dog.

In the meantime, I have received the following message from my husband, who has discovered Dudley's true identity. Read my husband's note below:

As the acting attorney for the defense, I'd like to point out that the evidence directly contradicts the DA's assertion. Not only does physical evidence from Mr. Chester's food tray indicate a single species perpetrator, I can call to the stand one Hilda Mouse, who will tell the court that she engaged the services of my client, Mr. Dick "Chipmunk" Tracy, to locate her missing husband, Mr. Marvin "Mellowtones" Mouse, missing since late yesterday evening, and believed to have been the victim of a foul play. Chipmunk Tracy had traced Mellowtones to a pasty partially hydrogenated platform when he suddenly found himself in the condition represented by the photograph labeled Exhibit A. This is a clear case of entrapment, and we therefore move for immediate dismissal and release. Further, as compensation for his improper detention, we suggest the court provide at least a handful of peanuts (preferably unsalted). The defense rests.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How to Fall Off the Wagon

Yesterday's venue: two Krispy Kreme doughnuts, three chocolate chips cookies, lime tortilla chips, one margarita, one glass of wine, beef for both lunch and dinner, several mini-naps, and no work-out whatsoever.

Looking at climbing back on the wagon today, I am wondering how hard it's going to be to work off the doughnut I ate for breakfast again this morning. And I already need a nap. Damage done, maybe I can just worry about this tomorrow. I'll deliberate this carefully over another cup of coffee infused with half-n-half and sugar.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Mini-Foodies

When I became pregnant with my first child, I had already spent about four years in classroom settings watching what children ate and how they behaved. I promised that my kids would not be the ones with artificially-colored fake fruit snacks and last night's chicken nuggets in their lunch boxes. I was also troubled by how limited  most children's diets were--mostly, items that came from boxes. And I wanted the kids to be able to eat what they were served without having an embarrassing break-down or time-consuming negotiation over the meal.  My problem is that in my quest for the kids to eat well and eat a variety of foods, I created a monster. Sometimes, Mommy just wants a burger and fries. Sometimes, jusssst sometimes, I feel the urge to have a pack of pressed-together-chicken nuggets dipped in some fructose-based faux sauce. My children often disapprove of this openly.

"Your step-dad is picking up Taco Bell on the way home since I have had such a long day," I said last week.
"Well, I really don't like Taco Bell. It's not so good for me anyhow," complained my daughter. Snob! This makes feeding the kids during our monthly road trips is extremely tough. While I usually pack an in-car picnic meal with sandwiches, fruits, and veggies, the kids eventually get hungry again. On  my last road trip with the kids, we had this conversation:

"We can stop here--here's a McDonald's. Are you hungry for a burger?"
"I don' wike McDonald's bu'gers. Is nasty," pipes up Tiny.
"What about fries?"
"No fwies either!!"
"Seriously? What would you like to eat?"
"Sushi!" state both children. Mind you sushi is a forty dollar meal for three people, and in truck stops and gas stations, sushi isn't a culinary mainstay anyhow. The prepared sushi at the grocery never tastes right to me, so I won't buy it for the road. Plus, these are kids. My kids. I make the rules. "Eat or starve," I'll say. "We have miles to go." Sometimes I can find a Subway or sandwiches from a gas station. I still laugh to myself when my daughter requests salad with a side of fruit at Wendy's, but I am so thankful that she wants this. To be honest, I personally prefer the number one combo with no cheese.

We have our moments--sometimes we have pizza. We enjoy Chinese food on Sunday nights--and God knows what is really in that stuff. My children's biggest weakness is soda, which they can only have once a week at best. And like most children, given total freedom, mine would choose cake for dinner. But when it comes to choosing an entree? Well, let me just quote my eleven year old: "Mom, I'll have the crabcakes with a side of pasta salad, please. And can I have a small garden salad with that?" I suppose I could have worse problems.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Top Ten Signs of Blogworthiness

I know I've written a good blog when I reread it hours after the last set of proofs and tinkers, and I find myself laughing again. And one good blog triggers another. I have begun to feel very chicken-and-egg about blogging--does the event trigger the blog or does the blogging make the event noteworthy? Nevertheless, here are some of the signs I have learned that show me when an event is blogworthy or when a blog is going to entertain:

1. When my husband does something and says about it later: It seemed like a good idea at the time. I wonder if he'll be saying that about the motorcycle he bought a year ago that he will finally be bringing home from storage this summer. Frankly, I see myself with a hard cast up to the hip after my first-ever motorcycle ride saying the same thing. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

2. Anything my son does involving what a girlfriend of mine calls "Shit-iroshima". You can draw a conclusion about what this might mean based on the fact that we now call Friday night's 3 AM vomiting session "Puke-asaki". I have yet to write about it, but then I have written before about the mass eruption that is children's barfing. Do we really need to go there again? Yes. Yes, we do.

3. When an event is a metaphor for something else, the event is now blogworthy. For example, the day my dog died, the dog I once shared with my ex-husband. Enough said.

4. When a lesson is learned. For example, why I should never shop with my children. And this week I learned another new lesson: I should have ignored my son when he asked me if using the middle finger was bad. I said yes, and today he willfully and knowingly shot his sister the bird. He's not even five. I have so much to learn.

5. When I eat something so incredible I immediately transcend time and space, my five senses become electrified, and I swear I'm having a foodgasm. I wish I had taken the time to describe every breakfast I ate at Cafe Pasqual's in Santa Fe, New Mexico this year. I love food. I think food is amazing. It's multi-sensory, sexual, comforting, basic, extreme, and a mastery of chemical reaction both in creation and consumption--all at once.

6. When I experience something that I know will directly relate to a reader, a common topic, and put a twist on it you didn't see coming. Or maybe, I put something out there that I never could have said at the kitchen table growing up, like my friend Jay's line in this post: http://cafecatiche.blogspot.com/2010/12/facebook-vs-blogger.html. It's a super short post. You'll know the line when you see it.

7. And when I experience something inspiring or life-changing. The posts about New Mexico are particularly examples of that.

8. Anytime I have to explain sex to my daughter. Remember this one? http://cafecatiche.blogspot.com/2010/05/joy-of-sex-education.html And just recently, we had a whole separate discussion when someone let my daughter watch an inappropriate film. And I quote: "Mom, I thought the guy's thingie went into the girl's thingie like this." She made a gesture. I said yes, that that was true. "Ok, but I just saw this movie where this girl was in love with two guys and one of them got her from behind." You can imagine the phone calls I had to place after THAT.

9. When the small moments are really big moments. I went to a children's talent show at my daughter's school this weekend. Those awkward displays of burgeoning (or failing) talent were beautiful. I have never seen so many brave young people. I watched one little girl sing "Yesterday" by the Beatles. She fought her nerves the entire time--stopping to fight tears, dropping words, and still managing to finish. I haven't even seen that many grown ups present themselves so vulnerably and courageously.

10. Love. Joy. Any moment that makes those things blossom in my heart and any moment that marks loss or transition relating to those things. My blog posts have run the gamut from self-indulgent to self-deprecating, but what I want to share the most is love. Like I said to someone this week, life is hard, but I would rather live celebrating its good moments. I hope that comes through on this blog. My life mission is to connect with others, make their living a better experience than it might have been otherwise. I hope that all the joys and trials of life that I have chosen to so neatly pen here in this blog are an element of that desire to love, share love, and be loved.

Happy reading! And as ever, thanks for coming back here again and again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Theory of Butts

A friend of mine once called me to complain that she was driving her husband crazy because she was not interested in sex. At the time, her first child was very small.  I thought about her situation (and mine, frankly) and said, "Well, I know what your problem is. It's the theory of butts."

And then I explained how the butt theory affects many young women in the throes of raising wee ones. "The deal is," I continued, "you get up in the morning and change your child's little butt, and then you feed him and have to change that little butt again. You often have to deal with explosive movements out of that butt, rashes, gas, et cetera. And your entire day revolves around nurturing that baby and dealing with his butt. At the end of the day, the last naked butt you feel like seeing is your husband's." When my girlfriend stopped laughing she said no one had explained things like this to her quite that way before. You can't argue with genius.

I often think the sex drive difference between the genders is absolutely cruel. Men are jacked up--testosterone is like gasoline cruising their veins and they don't need anything stronger than the sight of a woman in a thin sundress to raise their flag. Women's sex drive is different. It's not the same release as men. Our situation has to be right. Once we marry and start service mode (cleaning toilets, yelling at you because you eat cholesterol instead of fiber, managing the odd and semi-controllable on-goings of children), sex can feel like an extension of service.

My children are getting older, so really the butt theory doesn't apply to me very much anymore. They go to bed and stay there at night, for one thing. And my husband has figured out how to make things work to his advantage when I might be in an otherwise non-pliant mood. (Let's just say we have no problems in that delightful area of our relationship.) As for butts now, I often joke with my son that he needs to take off his clothes for a bath because "you know how much I love a naked man." Tiny laughs and laughs at this. Of course, one day, I won't be able to say this anymore without him responding, "Ew, gross, Mom. Cut it out." But by that time, I really won't want to see his butt, either.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Freelance Writing Center: Unethical and Suspect

This week, in the search to dig up better work, I came across a firm called Freelance Writing Center. I applied, took a grammar test, and then received a request to write a research paper as an audition. Something about this reeked of odd, unethical. I did some research and found another writer who had the same experience. I discussed this with my husband who was charmed that I could be so na├»ve as to not know this was an academic paper farm—the kind of firm that sells papers to students who will turn in work to their professors and therefore falsely claim original creation of the paper.  He said I could surely do this and make a comfortable living, but putting the firm on my resume would be the death of me should I later apply to a university or respectable publisher.

Here is the first letter to me from an anonymous administrator at FWC. I received it after pointing out typographical errors on the test I was required to take. Note the disorganization of thought in the paragraph below. There are also spacing errors and punctuation omitted.  The biggest flaw, however, is in the main question I was to answer. What kind of professional writer states this so poorly? Immigration is not a society, but a process. But read, on…

Thank you for your feedback.
Prior to uploading your own samples we ask that you please take our test essay. To avoid upload problems please save it as Immigration. The next step in the application process is to provide a test essay due no later than June 27th 2011. Instructions are: Explain why you think immigration is one aspect of society that you think will experience the greatest amount of social change over the next ten years and explain why you think this is the case. You may NOT use Wikipedia, any encyclopedia or any dictionary as a source for this paper. You must research this topic and express your view on how this social institution/ phenomenon will change over the next ten years. Make sure you answer the following questions and include the following information What is changing? How much, how fast, and in what direction? What are the engines driving change? What data is there to demonstrate that this change is likely to continue and is occurring? Why do you believe this topic will experience more social change than other areas/topics in the next ten years? Which theory of social change (functionalist, conflict or symbolic interaction) best explains this change and why? Please make sure it is 2 pages, double spaced in Times New Roman Font, with 3 sources in APA format. Thankyou"

I initially responded to this seeking clarification of the main question. Does the administrator really desire a discussion about the effects of immigration on society or how the process of immigration would change? Then, after writing my lovely husband, who smacked me over the head with what this firm really is, I did some research and wrote the following letter to the administrator:

Dear Administrator,
I did a little research on your question. I found that the subset of main questions was plagiarized from an article here:  http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people2/Wilensky/wilensky-con5.html.
AND I found that another writer at this website found fault with your request as well. You can see his comments here: http://www.magi-creations.com/ on his post for April 11.
Perhaps I was so naive as to not realize that this job meant getting paid to anonymously write other people's schoolwork. Do you mean to imply that plagiarism does not include the willful relinquishment of one's work so someone else can make an A on it?
I cannot ethically write someone else's work for a university, but I can edit student work. I can write informational articles where my name is attached to the project publicly.
Like the writer at Magi, I agree that the sudden request for an essay mid-application is suspect. I also think that a more professional organization would not have typos in the test for the job and that the request for the essay would have been more properly organized and written. My even having to write you for clarification on the question itself should have been a red flag for me.
Unless you can make assurances of ethical intentions, I am not interested. And by the way, I don't need to write on this topic in your suggested format for you to know I am a skilled writer. Any research you had done on the links posted in my resume would have answered that question.

Of course, you can imagine that like the writer at Magi, I will be told I am not a good fit for this position. That’s fine, because it’s just prostitution of words, and who wants to be the quintessential representative of those who write so others can have a beer instead of doing their homework. I’ll let you know what FWC tells me, but I think you already know as well.

And to Mark over at http://www.magi-creations.com/, I again thank you for the notice on your site. Perhaps you and I will have better luck at finding good work for good people.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cafe Telecommute: Coffee, Company, and a Little Bit of Work

About once a week, I take my laptop and task list to my favorite wifi cafe and work. If I don't do this, I begin to feel fairly isolated, not that I really mind days alone, but I feel a little more human when surrounded by other workers while someone makes and brings me coffee.

Working at the cafe allows me to accomplish a long stream of desk chores, creative writing, and work that home  sometimes doesn't; laundry awaits there, the dog has needs, something cries out for cleaning. And here, where I currently sit clicking away at moderate speed, I listen to the music of voices, the clink of flatware on plates, the belching of steam from the coffee machine. The pleasant white noise of public conversation and dining relaxes me. And after coming here for almost a year, I have begun to know by sight many of the other telecommuters who park themselves in front laptops as they await their own steaming cups of java.

As my step-daughters will tell you, people-watching at this particular cafe is a blast. Today there is the ambling, shaggy-haired server who had one too many last night and could not remember to bring me my bagel, much less toast it.  The sweeter of the two women who usually work the AM shift is behind the counter. She always smiles, and earlier this week shared with me conversation about what we endure comfort-wise to live in the aging homes of this historic town. The business people are here--some in suits and wound up tighter than a clock. They come with mouths clamped awaiting business partners, prospects, or interviews. The telecommuter crew like myself comes in dressed casually. Our body language is more relaxed at our ends of the tables. The unshaven gentleman to my left, in fact, legs sprawled apart as he half-reclines in the comfort of his t-shirt and shorts, is an example of that. And as I write, he has taken a business call, the nature of which completely contradicts his pose and dress. The woman to my right has come in to complete her Bible studies. She has folded her legs neatly to the side as she writes, her prim pearl earrings a perfect compliment to the tailored blazer that Jackie O would approve. Even her shoes have a swirl of blue that echoes the pale turquoise of her outfit.

My favorite people here are the crust punks. They come in wearing black or brown, but whether the fabric they sport initially started as that color is up for debate. Some boast burls of spiked or dreadlocked hair (some things White people shouldn't even attempt). The tattoo jocks visit here as well, their t-shirts blasting calligraphic swirls and designs that echo the ink illustrations embedded into their skin. The hairy-legged lesbian couple that comes in on occasion receives enthusiastic cheers from the crew working the barista bar. They are a genuine gender-plex and I am afraid to slip and say "ma'am" to one of them should we bump into each other.

At 10:45 AM, it's not too early for wine, according to the woman with the glass of Chardonnay across from me. Her husband, almost as wide as he is tall, has opted for a more breakfasty approach with his own toasty bagel and coffee.  They sit beside each other as opposed to across from one another. The yoga students come and go, pecking at the counter for the vegan products (this is nearly entirely an organic-based foods cafe, by the way). Tired mothers trip in with chubby, bouncing babes in the crooks of their arms and chic retro-themed diaper bags slung across their shoulders.

On other days, I have met quite interesting people: the Italian who sells Italian products for restaurants, the private investigator who transports people safely away from their stalkers, a blogger who makes quirky cartoons of his cats and has a rather large following of like-minded folk. And there are the people that raise questions within me. The bleach-blonde short guy who comes in regularly to read on his Nook (I never see him working. What does he do?). And one day, I sat next to a young man in the most oddly mismatched outfit, the best part of which was his pair of screaming-orange capri pants. He slept with the hood of his parka across his eyes for the entire duration of my visit. Why was he so tired?

This cafe attracts a wide range of clients due to its location at the base of our walk-to-shop district in the center of town. We drink locally grown coffee and eat breads from independent bakers. A well-known local artist has a long painting of landscape and highway streaming down the length of one wall. A bank of windows lets in gentle light from the west. The counter crew, while they don't quite seem to know how to interact on a child-friendly level with my kids, has been kind enough to help me feed a local, homeless man.

Among the mismatched, quirky, gender-bending and the straight up and down, tightly bound conservatives, I have found a home here: or rather an office away from home without all the red tape and politics. I don't have to get along with these people. I just have to sit beside them and watch pleasantly at the little circus of life flowing through cafe doors. I can't think of a better place to finish a tedious project.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Laughter and Motherhood

One day this week, my kids and I ran out of the house with score cards to rate my neighbor's lawn mowing performance. My daughter gave the lady a perfect ten. My son, for reasons he could not really articulate, gave her a five, and I gave her a nine (a point off for bad attitude, I said). She turned off the mower as we stood giggling in the grass and flagging our cards. My neighbor rolled her eyes and shook her head at us, but this is my way of keeping the mood light around the house.

I am often much like my own mother was in her childrearing years. She was very serious, very intense, and all business. And while I certainly appreciate her strictness as a parent myself now, what she wasn't was funny or goofy. But I can see why. She had a full emotional plate in those years: difficulties with siblings, caring for terminally ill and elderly relatives, my father's consuming career, her own dedication to graduate school, and then the working of two jobs to put my sister and I in high school and college while she created a name for herself. She raised us without family dropping in regularly to ease the burdens created by small children. My mother was hell-bent to give us the childhood she didn't have because her own holds sad and uncomfortable memories. In her earnestness to provide such stability for us, my mom's sense of humor was not a frequently seen trait. One could never associate her with slap-stick comedy. I often catch myself in long ruts of intensity with my children, remember her as a younger woman doing the same, and I will stop to take a mandatory silly break. It's the way I breathe, and I do this not just for my children and I, but for my mom, even though she is miles away. These moments of humor are episodes I will recount with her later so she can love and laugh with us.

I adore my mother. She has a wonderful laugh, and now that she isn't cracking the whip on my sister and I for fighting and creating general mayheim, I get to hear it all the time. I certainly don't think my childhood was wounded by my mother's towing the line in her straight-laced and straight-faced manner. In fact, my mother was exceptional at providing a myriad of things I haven't seen many other parents give their children in that generation or the ones since: a love of classical music and the visual arts; lessons on how to live within a budget, when and how to build credit, and how to pay off credit cards; the sacrifice of things she wanted so children can have comforts (but not luxuries); how graduation from school is not the end of your education, but the beginning; how and why to adhere to a difficult career choice for the sake of family; and that God sees everything we do. She taught us how to remake, rebuild, rehab, recraft, save, and reuse common items from clothes to pantry goods in order to stretch a dollar and be resourceful.

My mother was magic: she kissed booboos and had a cool hand and soothing voice whenever I was sick. She sewed our toys, our clothes, and crafted ornaments out of almost nothing for Christmas gifts (I still have the full set of papier mache ones she made when I was little. Very retro and I love them.) My mom gave us a fingerpaint set we could use in the laundry room of my first childhood home. She baked our birthday cakes, created fanciful Christmases in the leanest of years, and provided herself as a second mother to girlfriends of mine whose own mothers could be bitter or selfish with their own children. My mom taught me how to love. That she did all of this without cracking jokes much is pretty amazing.

I often tell my step-daughters that I am aware of my being "un-fun" and irritable around my own little ones. I have tried very hard to improve that aspect of household life. Perhaps, like my mother, I take childrearing so seriously that I have a hard time seeing the humor in the chaos as it is unfolding (after the chaos though, everything is funny). I have difficulty laughing at myself and have never taken teasing well, therefore, my teasing others is a rare indulgence. But I know who I am, and my mother knew who she was and what she wanted for us.

This year, I received a slightly suggestive and off-color email joke about the new airport x-ray scanners. You've likely seen these images of a female skeleton in provocative poses. What made the email so shockingly funny was that it was from my mom. Kudos to you, Mom. Keep up the good work.

Monday, June 6, 2011

How Not to Shop with Children

"That's it!" I announced. "I am not shopping with you kids for the rest of the summer! It's like paying for something I did wrong in a past life." The oldest child looked at me vacuously and blinked. The youngest continued to ransack the candy by the check out counter.

Normally, I shop on Mondays. I get the children to school and head to a small market on the path home. I do this because I can shop in less than 30 minutes without having to endure any fighting, foolishness, and requests for contraband items. Until you have shopped with small children, you cannot know how hard this mission really is. I have a sister-in-law that shops on Thursday nights. Maybe if my grocery offered an open margarita bar, I'd do this, too, but my husband's schedule is so crazy that when he's finally home, I am not going anywhere without him. My sister-in-law is smart; she'd rather shoot herself than grocery shop with her four little children. And only recently has she had a day schedule where all four short people are in school at the same time. I think of her every time I shop.

Don't ever scowl at mothers struggling with wayward young in the grocery. Don't judge. Karma, baby. This could be you. And while I have been the queen of leaving the grocery with a full cart of unpaid items still in the aisle so I could take a screaming toddler home, now that the kids are older, the trouble is a different sort. And it's more irritating to me than others around me. In fact, other shoppers consider the entire episode to be amusing, but I am not at all amused; I consider any outing with children to be a job. At the grocery when my children are in tow, I am working. I teach decision-making, budget choices, organization, logic, manners, and how to follow directions. The whip is cracking the entire time, and I am exhausted afterward.

My son helping shop on a better day
Sunday afternoon's shopping experience may have been much better if I hadn't gone to the larger market near my home, but this one had sent a stack of coupons marked FREE, and I wanted to use them. What I did not realize was that the store itself was under major construction. Having to fight for a parking space in the lot should have been a giant clue to the fight I was going to have inside. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, an afternoon when sane people should have been at the park, one of the weekend festivals, or playing in a yard somewhere, shoppers had turned out to the grocery in unprecedented numbers. Along with the crowd, the market had been re-organized haphazardly around curtains of plastic that separated food shelving from areas under renovation. The meat section was broken up into two areas that were spaced inconveniently far from one another. The milk-alternative products had been moved entirely across the store. Related aisles no longer flowed into each other. Again, I should have seen this, grabbed a few essentials and left the bulk of shopping for my standard Monday errands, but foolishly, I decided to persist. I must have been on crack.

I asked Chicken Little, who is now eleven, to help me find the carrots. She wandered in circles, announced that she didn't see them, and so I directed her toward the rest of the vegetable aisle. Meanwhile, Tiny was climbing in and out of my cart. My daughter still couldn't grasp the concept of finding a bag of carrots, so I left my cart where it was, got the little man by the hand, took my girl by the other, walked the length of the aisle, and found the bag of carrots.

"Oh," said my daughter. Meanwhile, I wondered, how hard can this really be? We retrieved the rest of our produce staples: bell pepper, green onion, bagged salad. Tiny Man peeled the skin of a vidalia onion and began to eat it. His sister objected loudly. He opted at this point for playing with the produce in the cart. I pried it out of his hands, located a kid's cart, which had been abandoned in the bread aisle by a smarter parent than I was at that moment, and gave my son directions: push your cart, stay close to us, do not put any items in your cart without asking.

At that point, we headed to choose eggs. Why I put them in Tiny's cart I don't know, but at the first sight of him running with the egg-bearing cart, I snatched the carton out and put them in the full-size cart, which was Chicken Little's job to push. While she remained quiet and largely cooperative, her flaw lay in her ability to plant the cart squarely in the path of others or to leave it in the center of the aisle blocking traffic. When I took the time to tell her to scoot over and get out of the way of others, I would turn around to find my son loading his cart with all sorts of things he can't have (sugar-based cereals, those fake juice gel snacks, pudding). I would make him unload the forbidden items, remind him not to "shop" without asking, and turn around to find my daughter blocking shopping traffic again. At one point, I began alternating which cart I used to load items--some for my daughter, some for my son--and then I discovered that they were fighting over who had what. My daughter would want certain items put in her cart and would take them from her brother's. My son would protest strongly. I would remind the children of their manners, remove the swiped items, start again, get slammed in the leg with one of their carts, heave a sigh, and try to find the next item, which as previously suggested, was not located in the usual location. Traffic swirled around my children and a man chuckled as I broke up some kind of dispute over a food item. My daughter wanted a certain cereal." No," I reminded her, "because you ask for things, I buy them, and the only person who eats them is me."

We stopped at the spice aisle where I asked the oldest to help me locate certain spices at a certain price point. She looked, became distracted, blocked the aisle again, and said she couldn't find anything. I moved her out of the way, found my son shopping again, relocated him, and found the items myself. We headed to find toilet paper, but apparently this is an exciting purchase and both kids wanted to be the one to have the pack of 12 rolls in the cart. I made an executive decision, told them to deal with it, and headed to find ground turkey, which was located with the water aisle backed against it. My daughter almost ran over a young couple. Suddenly, as the aisle emptied and another customer brushed by a display, a water jug popped off a shelf, split open on impact, and began pouring water on the floor. My son listened to me and moved his cart away, but his sister suffered some kind of sudden episode of brain damage, walked around me as I checked my coupons, and walked in the puddle, spreading it throughout the aisle.

"How old are you? Have you not seen water before? Do you realize the mess you are making? Can you not think for yourself? Do you see that people will slip on wet concrete?" I asked sternly as a clerk scooted past me to deal with the mess.

At the store front, tired and out of patience, I decided to forgo the search for popcorn and check out. I asked the kids to help put groceries on the conveyor belt. My son earnestly went to work, but my daughter zoned to a different planet and began to read tabloid magazines. I prodded her to be conscious and helpful, but when she began to unload groceries, it was from his little cart, not hers, and the fighting began. People behind me in line disappeared, which I completely understand, and I stopped the fighting. Tiny finished unloading his cart and began stuffing candy he wanted in his pants and my daughter emptied half her cart before retreating back into a National Enquirer. At this point, I made my proclamation: no more kids at the grocery.

"Whyyyyy?" they asked as I forced my son to handover his stash. He slipped over to the bagger who did not know that a previous bagger at another store had showed him where the button was that operated the conveyor belt. She stopped him from creating additional chaos. I called him over to me, made the oldest child finish unloading her cart, and paid for groceries.

"My, he's a curious boy," said the bagger.
"Aren't you kind," I answered flatly.
The checkout girl, who could not have been more than 17, repressed a smile. She was probably watching the kids and planning the form of birth control that she would use for the next 30 years.

At home, I sent the kids to play in their rooms. I put the groceries away quietly and without interruption. I deliberated opening a bottle of wine, but because I try not to use alcohol to take the edge off a situation, I decided to just take in the peace and quiet, and promised myself I would shop at bedtime the next time I have no one to help with the kids. Or sell them. Ebay. Craigslist. Kids for sale!! Two for one deal!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Believe

The other night, I told my daughter that I pray for her. She said she prays for me, too, especially in hard times, but she is not so sure about whether or not God is real. And, she added, she does not understand the whole Jesus-God thing.

"It's like this. Can you see bacteria?"
"Well, you can with a microscope," she answered.
"Well, now we can, but before there were microscopes, could people see bacteria?"
"No," she said.
"How small are they? Show me with your hands." My daughter held up two fingers pinched together. She complained that she could not show how small they were--being way smaller than her hands could manage.
"Exactly!" I said, "But are they real?"
"Well, yeah."

I told her God is like that, but on the other end of the size spectrum. He is so big, you cannot see Him. So huge, you cannot use your hands to show how much. I told her I really didn't believe in God having a human-like form, a persona, or gender, but that the He, as we have to use that term, is a force, an entity, so hard to describe and so amazing that He sent something we could all relate to, a man named Jesus, who showed us how to love each other and get along. So, of course God is real, I said, God is just greater than what we can fathom.

Once in a while, I feel like I get things right as a parent. This was one of my better moments. I am striving to teach her how to do the hardest thing: believe.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I Have a Muscle

So, weeks after dedication to exercise and self-control over what I eat, I found a muscle. It's in my right bicep. This morning, not believing it was really there, I poked it. The flesh sprung gently back into place. It did not swing, vibrate, or jiggle. I appreciate this and should reward the little muscle for its sudden emergence. Unfortunately, my left bicep is not as sure about the gains of fitness, and my triceps are in complete denial.

Yesterday at the barn, I learned that while my appearance does not necessarily reflect my hard work, the endurance is there. From 9:30 to 1, I shoveled poo, wheelbarrowed poo out of the barn, swept out the barn aisle, and worked with a horse. I was comfortably engaged in doing all of those things, and able to tolerate the 95 degree heat. When I left, I was tired and thirsty, but for the first time in weeks, not sore. Even today, except for a heat-induced headache, the signs of yesterday's labors are too mild for complaint.

Progress.

We should celebrate with cake!