Saturday, May 26, 2007

Deep, Dark Secret

I bought a Swiffer yesterday and I must say: it is an EXCELLENT invention! I have been wanting one for a while but I just never got around to it. I needed to clean my floors for Lulu's birthday party and my mop mysteriously disappeared - I have no idea where it went! I sort of wonder if I threw it away last time I mopped, thinking, "I hate mopping! I'm going to throw this mop away so next time I want to clean the floors I will HAVE to go buy a Swiffer." Pretty pathetic - it's been so long since I mopped I can't even remember if that's actually what I did. I would like to think I am so shrewd ... the less glamorous truth is it's probably stuck back in some closet where I will find it 6 months from now.

I don't listen to music or watch TV when I clean - I listen to the voices in my head. I do the same thing when I am trying to go to sleep: I just start thinking random things. It's very organized random thinking, not just thoughts that zip through my head like cars on the freeway. No, this is more like the neverending train that you didn't have the good fortune to beat when you are in a hurry to get somewhere.

Guess I know where Plato gets it.

Whilst Swiff-ing (Swiffer-ing?) I began thinking about my sixth-grade teacher, Ms. W.; specifically, the "Deep, Dark Secret" incident:

Ms. W was my sixth grade teacher and also my neighbor. Her eldest son was one year older than me. Her twin boys were 2 years younger than me - my sister T2K's age. While the older brother wanted nothing to do with us, we sometimes played with the twins. They had a swimming pool at their house, and we sometimes got to swim.

One day in class we talked about deep dark secrets. I don't remember why; probably it had some relevance to a book we were reading or a film we saw. Ms. W gave us the assignment of writing a paper about our "deepest, darkest secret." She assured us that this paper would not be shared with the class. She promised that at the end of the week, she would share her own deep dark secret with the class. We were tantalized, and all week were buzzing and speculating about what her secret could be. What kind of skeletons might be in her closet?

I had my own deep dark secret. It was horrible and I agonized over whether to share it with her. You see, when I was in first grade, I was certain that I had bought myself a one-way ticket to Hell.

When I was 6, my family moved across town and I started a new school halfway through the year. I didn't really like my teacher that much, probably because I wasn't her pet like I had been at my old school. I remember her making me do lots and lots of "catch-up assignments," and I wasn't making friends very quickly. One day for show-and-tell, a boy in my class brought a few neat rocks to share. They were many different colors: all of them smooth and polished and shiny.

It is imperative at this point in the story that you understand my fascination - nay, obsession with rocks. I had boxes and boxes of rocks at home, collected largely from the gravel road we lived on but also from various places I had visited. Rocks can be found almost everywhere, and I spent many an outing with my eyes riveted on the ground. My Grandma S's farm yielded arrowheads, fossils, and an occasional geode, and was my favorite destination for "rock-hounding." I had several books about rocks. I would spend hours just looking over my collection: washing them till they sparkled, trying to identify the kinds of rocks I had using my books, planning what types of rocks I would really like to add to my collection.

So this boy, Steve (my sister's friend married him) brought some polished stones for show-and-tell. He passed them around, and I ogled them. One of the stones was obsidian - also called "volcanic glass." It looks black but you can actually see through it. This rock was only about the size of an olive, but I was captivated. I just had to have it. At some point I managed to pocket the rock. I took it home, feeling my actions were justified since I was planning to give it back; I just needed more time with the stone to ponder and study it.

Steve must have noticed his missing obsidian, because the next day our teacher asked the class if anyone had found it. I just sat there innocently, not wanting to give up the stone and not wanting to get caught. I wasn't done with it yet...

After a few days the novelty was wearing off and the guilt was taking over, made worse by the fact that the teacher was still mentioning it every day. I decided to take the stone back, figuring I would just casually put the stone where it would be found by someone in the class, and no one would ever suspect that I had actually taken it.

That's when I realized I had lost the rock.

I looked everywhere, and I couldn't find it anywhere. The stone had been my nearly-constant companion ever since I brought it home. It had been in every room of my house, in the car, in stores, at restaurants. Retracing my steps to find it wasn't exactly an option.

I was sure that I was going straight to Hell. I had coveted. I had stolen. I had broken two of the ten commandments in one fell swoop. I agonized for months, and remained distraught over my actions for much longer. Indeed, by sixth grade the incident was still the first thing in my mind when the subject of deep, dark secrets was proposed.

It was with heavy heart and leaden pen that I put into writing my deepest, darkest secret. I am certain my hand was trembling when I handed it in. I waited for the backlash - surely, this was the worst secret in the whole class! Steve was still in my class. I had nightmares in which I was forced to stand in front of the whole class and confess.

I waited. Nothing happened.

At the end of the week, Ms. W went up to the blackboard and wrote in all capital letters: "MY DEEP DARK SECRET." She then slowly turned to the class and gave us a sly smile. There was a mass inhale, and we all held our collective breath. She turned back to the board and wrote one word: "SMITH." She proceeded to explain that her deep dark secret was her maiden name.

My jaw dropped. Maiden name? What kind of a secret was that? Heck, that wasn't a secret at all, since her parents were also my neighbors! I had bared my soul to her, opened a window into the blackest recesses of my conscience, and her idea of a "deep dark secret" was telling us her MAIDEN NAME?? I felt completely deceived. What had I expected her to disclose? Certainly something more sordid.

A few years later, we went to her house to swim with the boys. We went into the house to get some towels, and ended up having to get them from the master bathroom. Imagine my surprise when I saw Playboy and Playgirl magazines strewn all over the bedroom! I was at once both titillated and shocked.

That would have made a much better secret.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Meanest Mom Award

Plato thinks I earned the Meanest Mom in The Whole World Award last night.

Plato, despite being a boy, is my child who has required little discipline compared to Lulu. He has always been relatively eager to please us, especially me. He is a child who will usually step right back into line with a stern look or a gruff voice, and only occasionally needs threats or a spank on the butt (yes, I spank my kids - rarely and only if nothing else gets through to them...sue me). I never had to spank Plato until he was about 4 years old! Lulu, on the contrary, was getting occasional spanks from about the time she turned one. She's so bullheaded, and has relatively little drive to please anyone save herself! Different methods for different kids.

Anyway, last night Plato was just defiant. He has been more and more this way since kindergarten started and I have tried to just accept it as part of his becoming independent. Sometimes he just takes it too far, like last night.

When the kids come home from school, they are filthy. Especially their feet since it is sandal-season. When we get home I make them sit at the bottom of the (off-white carpeted) stairs and wait for me to go get a washcloth and wash their feet before heading upstairs. Last night we went to the park for a picnic instead of going home. No time for feet-washing, and they had park dirt on top of the school dirt. Ultra-filthy feet.

We drive a Ford Focus. This is the millennium version of the old Escort. It's a fuel-efficient car, especially compared to the Tahoe we got rid of, but the sacrifice is space. The front seats sit in a perfect position for the kids to put their feet up on. The rule is "no feet on the seats." The rule has been in place since we bought the car about a year ago. Filthy sandal feet, mucky winter feet, bare feet - doesn't matter. For some reason (probably involving toddler self-control abilities) we frequently need to remind both kids to keep their nasty feet down.

Last night, Plato just wasn't listening. I asked, then told, then threatened him to keep his feet down. He was simply hyped up. We were sitting in the Fareway parking lot while JeepMan ran in for some ice cream treats. As a diversion from putting his scummy feet on the seat he started picking on Lulu, then pinching me and pulling my hair, giggling the whole time. Finally I blew up and told him no ice cream treats for him - he was going straight to bed when we got home and Lulu would get to stay up and eat her treat. He freaked out, whined, fake-cried...put on a real show. Finally he begged me for "one more chance mom, just ONE more chance!"

This is his new tactic. I have been hesitant to take the bait in the past, but the punishment here seemed pretty harsh so I felt generous and told him ONE MORE CHANCE, but he had to be good all the way home, hands off his sister, quiet, and FEET DOWN. He promised and swore that he would be good all the way home (5 minute drive).

About 90 seconds later his feet were on my seat again AND he was pulling his sister's arm halfway out of it's socket. I lost it.

He cried pitifully all the way home and I didn't flinch. He went straight inside, straight to PJ's and straight to bed. I talked to him about what he did, and what lesson he learned, assured him that I loved him, and kissed him goodnight. He stomped, whined, pouted, and gave me the silent treatment. He said he would never, ever love me, ever again.

About 5 minutes after I left his room, he walked out sheepishly and told me he was sorry and that he had learned his lesson. I hugged him and put him back to bed. As I was tucking him in he said, "But Mom, I thought if I said sorry I would get an ice cream sandwich?"

I stuck to my guns. I said I was proud of him for apologizing, and was glad he had learned a lesson. Then I told him if he made better choices tomorrow he would get an ice cream sandwich then.

Man was that hard.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Day After Saturday

Just wanted to post that I had a great night last night. JeepMan took me out for sushi - my favorite! We ordered a "Love Boat," which is a 40-piece sampling of all kinds of sushi. It came with miso soup, which I could eat every day, and a ginger salad. JeepMan likes sushi too, but he said he would rather have had a steak. I just never crave a steak when I eat out, probably because I can cook a steak just as good at home, for cheaper! When I go out I want something that I can't or wouldn't make at home.

We saw the movie, "Fracture," with Anthony Hopkins. Man, is he getting wrinkly! But he's an awesome actor, and the movie was pretty good. I figured out the twist about halfway through. I hate it when I figure out the twist early. Ok, I mean, I like feeling smart, but it sort of ruins it too.

Today I have to go to Wal-Mart (as my friend Nik so appropriately put it, the 7th Circle of Hell). I need to grocery shop and necessities shop, so one stop shopping is the lure that takes me there. Then we have to go get the kids. Somewhere in there I need to start planning for LuLu's 3rd Birthday party, just 6 days away. I think she wants a Dora the Explorer theme. Black frosting, ugh.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Quiet House/MIL Rant #2

Wow. It's quiet.

The kids are at mom-in-law's house. She finally got rid of her houseguest, so we let them spend the weekend there.

I guess that needs some explaining.

As you are aware from my previous posts, MIL's ideas often don't jive with JeepMan's and my ideas. Last October, she dropped a bomb: she was bringing her nephew to live with her. Her nephew, JeepMan's cousin (I'll call him LT), fit any conventional description of a "troubled" person.

LT grew up in the southwest. His father (JeepMan's uncle) is a drug dealer, currently doing jail time. LT grew up in chaotic circumstances. His mother died of heart failure, waiting for a transplant, when LT was only 13. LT's father had sporadic employment and was evicted from more than one home. They sometimes lived in hotel rooms. LT had no guidance or supervision, did poorly in school, and never had an example of a responsible person to model himself after. MIL decided he needed "a better life." Generous, right? So what's the problem?

The problem is that LT was 20 1/2 years old when MIL decided to "give him a better life."

MIL said she was bringing him here to the midwest, letting him live with her for a month, then kicking him out of her house if he hadn't found a way to make it on his own. This scenario was fraught with potential pitfalls, as JeepMan and I saw it. LT didn't have any life-skills. He didsn't have any idea of what a responsible adult was expected to do. He was so under-educated, he couldn't even get a driver's license because he couldn't pass the exam! How was this young man supposed to come to a new state with no savings or driver's license, get a job, save some money, find a place to live, and become independent within 4-6 weeks?

Well he arrived last November. About that time, we told MIL that the kids would not be allowed to come to her house and spend the weekend while LT was living in the house. Formerly, the kids would go there once a month or every other month to spend a weekend. This was great - the kids enjoyed it very much and we liked having some couple time for ourselves, too. However, we don't know LT. We have never known him. He was an absolute stranger that JeepMan just happened to be related to. He was a 20-year-old kid with a sketchy past and no guidance. We simply couldn't have our kids staying in the same house with a young man we didn't know or trust.

When MIL found out our position, she blew up. She yelled and screamed and accused my husband of being suspicious, passing judgement, and being a jerk. She made threats of legal action to force us to let the kids come for weekends. JeepMan and I were stunned and angry at her actions, but we stood our ground. Our children have had no unsupervised visits with MIL since October. We simply cannot trust strangers around our children, especially young adult male strangers with unknown morals.

MIL has calmed down since then, but we have seen her underbelly, and are certain that we would never want our children to go to her in the event of our untimely deaths (God forbid). I would like to believe that her impassioned (but certainly misguided) response to our decision was motivated by her devotion to the kids. There has never been an apology, or even an acknowledgement of the fact that we were simply being responsible and protective parents.
In fact, neither she nor us have spoken of it since it happened; it sits there between us like the proverbial gorilla in the room.

LT has moved out - 6 months later. MIL found out after just a month or two that having LT living with her wasn't going to be the experience she had romanticized in her own mind. LT didn't want her controlling him and she is, to her core, a control freak. She felt that since he was living in HER house he needed to follow HER rules and do what SHE wanted him to do. It didn't take long before he was staying out "too late," drinking "too much," and doing "too many" things she didn't know about or condone. I think in the end he was pretty desperate to get away! He now has a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant, and a coworker/girlfriend who hasn't yet tired of chauffeuring him around. After a few months of blowing his paychecks on Playstation games and fancy cellphones-and-cellphone-accessories, he and his girlfriend scraped together enough money to get an apartment together. He has been told that he cannot return to MIL's place.

I hope the best for him. He seems like a nice enough guy, though I still wouldn't trust him with my kids.

So this weekend is the first that the kids have been away for 6 months. A small part of me feels a little queasy about this. The kids will definitely be interrogated (subtly) about the weekend when they get home; this is no different than before, though. The time to ourselves is really nice every once in a while, and I think kids should spend time with their grandparents sans parents. We have stayed nearby both sets of grandparents specifically to facilitate this kind of relationship between the generations.

JeepMan and I had a nice meal together last evening, then walked around our local ped-mall, enjoying the perfect cool evening and listening to a free outdoor jazz concert. We stayed up late, then slept in this morning. For lunch, we had panini sandwiches on the patio at a little Italian deli. We went shopping, and I bought some new plants; he bought some new bolts. I puttered in my flower beds while he puttered in the garage. He is still in the garage and I am blogging. Soon I am going to take a nice hot shower (uninterrupted by peeking children wondering if they can get in with me!), then we will head out for a good dinner and maybe even a movie that isn't animated...

Life is good.

But... I can't wait see Plato and Lulu tomorrow. I'll grab them and kiss their chubby little cheeks, hug them close and press my face into each of their hair - inhale their indiuidual scents: shampoo, sweat, sunscreen, and that special Plato or Lulu musk that goes up my nose and straight to my core, exhilirating the primal mother within me.

Yeah, that'll be great too.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What Doesn't Kill Us...

I have had a great weekend. Friday night we had a couple beers and snacks with some friends from JeepMan's work. I hung out with the kids yesterday (JeepMan was in the garage most of the day, surprise, surprise!), went shopping for clothes and plants, then went out last night with some friends to a wine-tasting/hors d'oeuvres event. Today I got most of my new plants put in, and did some transplanting as well; it should be cool and rainy for the rest of the week -perfect for the plants to get established. Then it started raining right on cue after the last of my plants were in, so we went out to Spiderman 3 (average, but passable as entertainment).

Unfortunately I haven't felt too good since, probably some GI bug, but then I am not complaining. It's been a relaxing and fulfilling few days, and I am thankful for that.

Speaking of thankful, I have to give thanks for the safety of my Grandma. She is 84, and still drives wherever she wants to go. Apparently she was driving back from church this morning on the gravel (which she has been driving on her whole life), hit some ruts, and drove the car into the ditch. She said she was going about 35, but the police wonder if she was going faster. The car popped out of the ditch and flipped end-over-end. Amazingly, the airbags didn't even deploy. She crawled out the passenger window, and a neighbor called 911 for her. She had a laceration on her temple which was stapled shut, and possibly some fractured ribs. I imagine she won't be feeling too well over the next few days and weeks. It's amazing to me that she could survive a crash like that at all, especially at her age. She must have a vigilant guardian angel...

Now, speaking of what doesn't kill us...

I have never been one of those moms who is a dirt-and-germ-o-phobe. I subscribe to the theory that exposure to a variety of germs at young ages actually strengthens a child's immune system. Really - it's not just an excuse for me to be a lazy mom! I mean, I still want my kids to wash up after using the restroom, and I always use a paper towel as a barrier between myself and a public restroom door's just that the "usual" dirt, drool, and other nastiness that kids manage to get into from day to day doesn't faze me too much.

So Lulu was sitting next to me in the theater this afternoon. The lighting was dim (as it generally is in a movie theater). We were waiting for JeepMan and Plato to return with from the snack bar with the pop and popcorn. Lulu asked me where Daddy and "Pwato" went. I said they were getting snacks. She says, "I hope dey bwing mo pock-own."

More? Popcorn?

I mentally slapped myself in the forehead. I looked over at her and yep, you guessed it. She was chewing a piece of mysteriously acquired popcorn. OK, that's gross.

But that was nothing. I have had one instance for each child that I was viscerally disgusted over. I still get queasy thinking about each one.

When Plato was about 14 months old, we had taken him to a Chinese restaurant. I remember he was toddling, but not too well. We ate supper, walked around the mall a little, then piled into the car to head home. He was sitting in the middle of the backseat in his carseat; he was old enough to be facing forward. Usually he would chatter up a storm in the car, but this night he was quiet. Too quiet. We looked back and there he was, happily picking rice off the bottom of his shoe and eating it. I looked at JeepMan, he looked at me, and we shared that oh-so-bonding sensation of mutual nausea. Suddenly his sharing of mouthed toys at daycare and picking his nose seemed positively sanitary.

Which leads me to two days ago. I mentioned that we had gone to a restaurant with some of JeepMan's coworkers? We had been sitting there for a while, too long in retrospect, chatting with another guest. Now, normally we are extremely strict about restaurant behavior with our kids: we stay in our seats, we don't run around, and we use our best manners. This night however, we were unusually slack - basically because JeepMan still had a full beer to drink and I was tired of wrangling the monsters. So we were letting them walk around, a little, in the area of the table. Well, around the table led to under the table before long. Pretty soon, JeepMan asked me what was in Lulu's mouth. I looked and told him she had a piece of popcorn in her mouth. "From the floor?" he asked (Deja Vu, you say?). I said no, it was from the table (indeed there was popcorn strewn across the table). About 5 minutes later, Plato asked me if he could have a piece of gum. I told him I didn't have any and he whined, "No Fair! Lulu has gum!!"

The horror of it all dumped over me like a watercooler full of ice cold gatorade...

I looked at her and there she was, sitting under the table, chewing gum. Gum I had not given her. "Where did you get the gum, Lulu?" I demanded. "Wite dere..." she told me, offering The Grin (at once so self-satisfied, innocent, and strangely evil), and pointing her chubby finger at the underside of the table.

I took a big breath, swallowed the dry heave, confiscated the gum, and repeated silently the mantra of many a sane mom:

What doesn't kill them makes them stronger, What doesn't kill them makes them stronger, What doesn't kill them makes them stronger....

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I have a rare few moments this evening to jot down my thoughts.

I'm sitting in my comfy sweats and oversized T-shirt, relishing the cool breeze of the evening. Through the open windows, the light perfume of crabapple blossoms from the tree in my front yard mingles with the heady aroma of fresh-baked banana bread. As I look out the front window I catch glimpses of an apricot sunset as the tree branches bounce and sway in the wind. The random "click, click" of a zipper occasionally breaks the monotony of the dryer hum. Distant squeals and giggles are becoming less and less frequent as the neighborhood children drift inside for homework or bed.

JeepMan is at the parts store, ordering a part for the truck. I hope it's a cheap one. It's his second trip out tonight, the first being an "emergency" trip to the store after Plato told us over dinner that he had invited the neighbor girl, Olivia, over for dessert. It's the first time he has done such a thing; unfortunately we don't keep much dessert stuff around, and the banana bread wasn't going to be done. Rather than disappoint him (and his friend), JeepMan ran to Fareway and picked up some sundae cones. What a good dad! The kids ate cones on the front steps, then played a while before bedtime.

Lulu is down the hall talking herself to sleep. She does this every night; it cracks me up. The minute I leave her to fall asleep she starts chattering. Unfortunately she doesn't have volume control, and usually has to be reminded several times to keep it down. I just reminded her, again, to whisper, and she told me, "I'm telling my STORIES, Mom!!"

Plato is asleep already. He's a champion sleeper, which probably accounts for the fact that he still wears a PullUp to bed. He falls asleep almost instantly and rarely wakes in the night. Most every night I go in about an hour after he falls asleep and "unwrap" him: his technique for falling asleep involves actually wrapping his head up in his blanket. It's creepy, and it used to freak me out completely. It's still unnerving, but I figure if it hasn't killed him yet it probably isn't going to. I actually bought his blanket with his habits in mind, making sure it was very breathable.

Tonight Plato was in thinking mode. During prayers, he was listing the people he was thankful for: Mom, Dad, Lulu, family and friends. Then he said he was thankful for Christians. It caught me off guard as we haven't discussed Christianity per se. He paused, then asked me what a Christian was. I explained that Christians believed in Jesus, and this seemed to satisfy him. He then said he was thankful for "...well...who was Noah again?" I told him about the Ark and the animals, and he said, "Oh yeah. I am thankful for Noah. And Jesus. And Johnny Appleseed."

As I was tucking him in, I asked him if he had fun playing with Olivia. He said "yeah," and started blushing! I asked him if Olivia was his friend (like many little girls, her friendship is fickle). He said "yeeeesssss," and started grinning like a cheshire cat. I raised my eyebrows, and he offered, "Well....she's actually sort of my GIRLfriend, but I'm trying to keep it a secret!" I asked him if his friends knew about it, and he said "Noooo." I asked him if Olivia knew about it and (thankfully) he said, "she doesn't know."

Oh boy.

Well, the dryer is chirping. And LOST is starting. What a great night!