Friday, February 28, 2014

The Art of Conversation OR My Toes are Drying, So I'm Blogging

My phone swooshes. (It's a sound my phone makes. Roll with it.) A text has come through from my friend: a picture of a woman against a pink background. Beside her, it says, "A good friend knows when to pour a glass of wine and talk you through it. A great friend knows when to shut up and hand over the bottle."

I burst out laughing, garnering attention from her boyfriend, who is playing Xbox. "Are y'all texting each other?" he says incredulously. We are across the room from each other, mere feet away.

"Yes," I say. "We can't be expected to walk all the way across the room."

The art of conversation is dead.

Rather than meet up for meaningful talks, we gather to stare at our phones collectively. We long for human interaction just enough to leave our houses to scroll through Facebook at the same table. It's not all our faults. Some of it is biology- our hardwiring. An inability to overcome the social anxiety of speaking up. I don't know about you, but I'm not capable of having normal, socially acceptable conversations. I can't make small talk about the weather or cute babies or who will win the Pennant. I am, however, passionate about discussing my horror over the existence of tartar sauce. I can wax poetic on types of eggs I hate (poached and sunny up). I am capable of hour long discussions on Dr. Seuss philosophy. Unfortunately, none of these are marketable skills in the "making friends and influencing people" department.

In the long run, we're doing ourselves a disservice. We don't know people as well as we should. I can name three hundred random facts about my five year old, because he and I are on the same level, conversationally speaking, but I can't tell you which elementary school my best friend attended or the specific ages of her children.

Maybe it boils down to the constant stream of information we're processing. Never before have we been bombarded with SO MUCH FUN STUFF. Media. Billboards. Movies. TV. Radio. Who has room for the name of their 1st grader's gym teacher's son's dog?

It occurred to me, this evening, that I haven't sat in silence since I woke up this morning.

6:00- Check Facebook, which has videos.
7:00-12:00- While cleaning house, I blast the radio.
12:30- Driving to school, the radio is back on as entertainment.
1:00- At school, another radio is set up to play mood music.
4:30- During break, I discuss the dangers of tanning beds and updates on book reports, and have conversations about banks.
6:30- I leave school, with the radio back on.
7:30- At home, my stereo is set to a talk show while I make tea.

Noise. 24/7. Is it any wonder we don't have time to listen? Is it any wonder, even when we think we're listening, we don't hear what matters?

On the other hand, who cares? Really. Who cares what you say? Because all the conversation swirling around me is usually just diluted small talk.

"Some weather we're having."
"How was work?" "Fine."
"Did you catch the game last night?"

Do you care? Really. Do you care? Maybe our problem isn't that we have forgotten how to speak, but we've forgotten which questions matter. We're tired of answering "fine", when we're not. We're tired of discussing the weather. Again. For the ninth time. Have you ever heard two kindergarteners conversing? They're fluent in if-speak, in questions. If I jump off this bed, will I fly? Are you my best friend? Why? If you hold this end and I hold that end, what happens? Do you love me more than pie? Why can't I drive the car?

Valid questions. Good questions. Questions that shake our beliefs and force us to examine who we are as people. DO I love you more than pie? (The answer is no. Pie changes my life. My feelings go exceptionally well with pie. You, however, are not filled with blueberries, and if you are, we need to talk.)

We're placing value in the wrong questions, people. Who the H-E-double-toothpicks cares what the weather is doing? If I have to look at another picture of snow on Facebook, I'm going to punch someone. If I want to know what the weather is doing, I'll poke my head out the door. They invented doors for a reason. Questions are meant to examine, to challenge, to turn oneself over and come up different.

"How often do you cry in public?"
"How do you pronounce pecan?" (The correct way is puh-cawn.)
"How do you feel about cilantro? Really dig deep. How do you FEEL about cilantro?"
"How frequently do you shave your arm pits?"
"If you were a color, which color would you be today?"
"What do you want to be when you grow up? Don't say Certified Public Accountant, because I already took that."

Surround yourself with people who know how they feel about cilantro. Demand the best kind of people as friends, the ones who can tell you their spirit animal (mine is Bob Ross). Know that your friend will not bat an eye when you purchase a stuffed pig with wings from Cracker Barrel, because my God, how were you supposed to pass up a stuffed pig with wings?! And not only will your friend not bat an eye, but they'll already know you named it Hope, without you having to explain. (Hope? It'll happen when pigs fly? Get it? You get it.)

You want good friends. You want your words to mean something. To have value. So does everybody else. They just don't know how to say it. So I'll start. And I don't care if you're thirteen or ninety-nine.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Advice for the New Year

Am I late? I'm a little late. It's already the fifth of January, but I haven't written a snarky post about resolutions or change. Aside: suggesting people should change is damaging to relationships. I, myself, never encourage change, unless it's to change the coffee filter and add more water to the pot. People never encourage me to change, because I'm perfect.

*ahem, ahem*

I'm not going to tell you how to change. You probably already have a list of eight or ten things you're resolving to do differently this year. Are you going to the gym more? Eating broccoli every other meal? Planting a garden? Adopting a cat? Or perhaps you're going the other way entirely. Less stress. More downtime. Fewer (yes, dear, it's fewer) worries and extra movie nights. That's good, too. If I'm guessing, though, whichever way you went, you're five days behind on your plan.

Breathe. It's okay. Repeat this mantra: nobody cares about your dumb resolutions. I don't. I love you, flaws and all. And because of my obvious perfection, I don't have time for resolutions. In lieu of change, I make it a point to share with strangers my excellent advice. On that note: have some advice.

ADVICE FOR THE NEW YEAR

1. Hug a cat. Or a dog, if you're one of those weird "dog people". I, myself, am a cat person. It's less commitment. Dogs need love obsessively. Cats need affection sporadically, at best, and prefer you dead, as long as you've set up a food source. Research proves pets are therapeutic. If you don't have a dog or cat, go to a dog park and hug a dog owner. They, too, are obnoxiously friendly.

2. Drink more coffee. It's quite good for you. Just the other day, Aiden and I were taking a walk. Because I was distracted trying to save my older child from walking headlong into traffic, Aiden stole my coffee. "Don't drink my coffee," I said. With pursed lips and a deeply furrowed brow, he held up a single hand. "It's okay," he said. "Coffee is good for you. It has antioxidants." Well. Well, well. One cannot argue with that logic. It is, in fact, flawless. Drink more coffee. It's apparently chockablock with antioxidants.

3. Take a nap. Naps are magnificent. Life is exhausting. Sleep more. All your problems and traffic jams and icky diet meals will be there when you wake up.

4. Stop wearing Uggs with booty shorts. No more leggings as pants. Erase "jeggings" from your dictionary. If you wear a belt as a skirt, don't be surprised when other adults don't take you seriously. Cover your vagina. On that note, men, pull up your pants and meet the handy little device called "belt". Class it up. Have you noticed all the girls drooling over Benedict Cumberbatch? It's because he's wearing a suit. Try that.

5. Be a geek about something. Really. Just geek out and don't worry at all if anybody else gets it. Movies? Geek out. Video games? Geek out. Baking? Geek out. Super Grover? Geek the heck out. Whatever you love, love it with everything you are.

6. Work out. No, that's not real. I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. Eat a taco.

7. Let go of the anger. When I was growing up, we had a wonderful book called, "Don't Hug a Grudge". It's a children's book about how anger becomes hatred and hatred becomes bitterness and bitterness becomes a grudge. And after a while, you're not just carrying the hurt around. Bitterness smothers you and crushes you and steals away your life. Let go of the anger. Let go of the hurt. And I know what you're thinking. "It would be lovely if it were just that simple." I know. I know you feel like that, because so do I. Late at night, when I'm all alone, that hurt seeps back in. And my God does it hurt. Sometimes I think I'll be consumed from my broken, weary heart. But you are so strong. You are beautiful and strong and you can fight. And the first, fastest way to fight is to let go of the anger. Do not let it consume you. Do not let it break you. You will survive if you can learn to let go.

8. A carry-over from last year's advice: stop using "gay" as negative, descriptive terminology. It still makes you seem small and ignorant. It's 2014 people. Let's have this be the year for thesauruses! Think of all the great terminology available to you. An expanse of knowledge waiting to be swallowed. (That sounded dirtier than I was expecting. Just roll with it.) Use your oral skills! (Still not better.)

9. Eat donuts. Donuts are delicious. Especially if you live in Richmond and can buy them from Dixie Donut. But even if you can't, eat donuts.

10. Ann Landers suggests, for the new year,  "advising a youth to do his or her best". That sounds awful. (What's a youth? They sound horrible. I'm not even sure they're real.) Instead, teach your younger siblings, nieces, nephews, or cousins ways to get away with mischief. Austin's recent discovery is that I can't resist his puppy dog face. He's passed this information along to Aiden, who is horrible at making puppy dog faces, but freaking cute in his attempts. THAT is good sibling-ship. So there is your mission. Teach the younger generation manipulative life skills.

11. Ann Landers also suggests, "return those books you borrowed". Again, horrible advice. Borrow more books. Steal them, if you must. The used bookstore usually has an 82/$1.00 section. Bring books into your life. Never take books back. Never give up, never surrender! (Yes, that was a Galaxy Quest reference. Enjoy.)

12. Fight. Fight hard, for whatever you believe in. Join a cause, or just fight to save your own life. Be alive. Feel alive. Fight incredibly hard, because life will take every ounce of strength you possess. But know, this: life is beautiful. You may not always be able to see it, but it is, indeed, beautiful.

13. Be silly. It's so delicious and good for the soul. Draw on your fingertips. Dance, despite the fact that everyone is watching. Read a children's book. Play with your kids at the park. Be silly. Don't you miss being young and uninhibited? Color. Climb a tree. Order chocolate chip pancakes. Laugh at a simple joke. Be unabashedly silly.

14. Read more blogs. Do it. I promise you'll love it. Start with Jason Good and then cruise over to Hyperbole and a Half. Do a Google search. Spend a whole evening, with a good beer (might I recommend Duck Rabbit Milk Stout) or a lovely glass of wine (just buy something cheap and use buzzwords like "robust") and settle in for a night of blog reading. And, you know, if you get bored, pop back over here later on and see what I've posted.

Happy New Year, y'all. I'm back.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I'm the Masseuse Your Mother Warned You About

I can already tell the other students are going to hate me. Not that I've met them, but I know myself well enough, and we won't be getting along.

In case you're out of the loop, I signed up for college. While my career path is massage therapy, my main focus is on foreign languages. I'll be taking two this year: anatomy and physiology. Nerves have me all riled up over the number of flash cards I'll have to make, but the truth is, I'll ace my courses. I graduated at the top of my class in high school. Yes, I was the only person in my class, but that's beside the point.

I do well in class because of three reasons:

1) I suck up to teachers. Authority figures have always loved me. I'm willing to do the hard work, I don't take crap from people in group settings, and I bring cake pops wherever I go. Also, I can spell. I can even spell 'misspell' without spell check.

2) I test well. Somewhere along the line, I became terrified of failing. We're talking child-of-strict-Asian-parents terrified of failing. Don't have a clue why. My father never cared much about our grades that I can remember and my mother encouraged us to do well, but there wasn't any major discipline or consequence in place when we did poorly. It was a relatively encouraging learning environment. They allowed us to study topics of which we were interested; we all look back in varying shades of fondness on our homeschool experience. Somewhere, though, I became utterly terrified of failing. Do you remember hiding under the covers after bedtime with a flashlight and a favorite novel? I did that, but with textbooks. When I struggled in math, I took it personally. If I couldn't pass a test with flying colors, it was a major blow. One might think this would lead me to disdain higher education or shy away from testing, but it only did the opposite. In the paraphrased words of a great Jedi: "Ace the test, or do not take the test. There is no try."

3) I overachieve. This is exemplified by my recent school application. I took my facilities tour at the beginning of the month, and filled out my application promptly. For the next two weeks, I poured over my entrance essay. Let me just say: I detest vague essay questions. Give me something definite to write about and I'll blow you away, but offer me a vague "who are you?" prompter and I fall apart. Who am I? A crazy, wired-up ball of maddening awesomeness, that's who. But it's difficult to fit into one, single-spaced sheet of paper. My essay question was: "Why do you want to be a massage therapist?" Fortunately, I have a very simple reason: my son. He has muscular dystrophy in his neck, causing him immense pain. We have to give him massages multiple times a day and he sees a therapist regularly. But to explain my reasoning, I had to tell, not only the story of finding out about his condition, but how we came to realize just how serious it was and how emphatically massage therapy has altered the way we manage his pain. So I wrote. For two weeks, I edited, added, removed, shortened, explained, and tweaked. One day before it was due, I submitted my application and my essay. Then, I sat back, exhausted, sighing. My eyes drifted to the application guidelines spread across the desk before me. "Please submit a paragraph explaining why you want to be a massage therapist."

A paragraph.

One paragraph.

I had just sent them three, single-spaced pages.

On the plus side, they called me within 12 hours to say I'd been accepted.

"We don't normally make phone calls," explained the head teacher. "But we wanted to make sure you were watching the mail for your acceptance letter."

So, yes, I wreck the curve for everyone else. The other students probably won't like me, if history is to teach us anything. But I don't care, because the curve is only there to be wrecked.

Monday, August 5, 2013

I Have to Care, Too?

The whole point of marriage is being able to quit, right? It's why I signed up. I'm pretty sure it was in the vows that I can stop trying as soon as I have a ring on my finger. "'Til death and pajama-jeans and breakouts do us part", or some such line. But Cosmo says no. Apparently, Cosmo wants us to "try" and "make an effort" and "care". It sounds exhausting.

I gave it five minutes. Not a chore on Earth exists that I can't ruin in five minutes. But once I'd logged onto the internet, there was a plethora of date night suggestions to mock! What was I supposed to do: pass it up? As if. So settle in with your loved one. This can be your bonding time, your date night, your cuddle hour. Sip a glass of wine and mock with me. And then do what I do: don't make an effort, but do Do It with the spouse.

Movie Night
Do you remember when a trip to the movies and a box of popcorn was a cheap date night? Neither do I. *sigh* Unfortunately, going to the theater means sitting down with your money guy for a little one-on-one mortgage talk. Can we take out a home equity loan to cover the cost of the small Dr Pepper, or will I need to get a second job? How many hours will she need to work at the diner to afford the tax on the tickets?

Roller Skates and a Picnic
Please, just don't. There is a valid reason why roller skates went out of style: nobody likes them. Nobody looks good roller skating. Women hate roller skating so much they've turned it into a sport where they punch each other in the back of the head. (That's definitely how Roller Derby works. I didn't look it up, but I'm quite sure.) And when you add in picnics, you're just asking for trouble. But maybe I'm wrong. Go for it. Put on your roller skates, sweat bands, swishy, synthetic wind shorts, and afros, and balance that picnic basket on your arm while wobbling down the broken sidewalk to the skate park. I'm sure it'll be a blast.

Side note, the only valid reason to put on skates is if you're reenacting Hal's roller blading scene on Malcolm in the Middle. Which will certainly not get you laid, but may result in you sleeping on the couch.

Separate Vacations
Absence is an aphrodisiac. Spend time apart, to make the heart grow fonder. I recommend starting with two years, and working up from there as you feel comfortable.

Take a Class
Yes, I thought. That actually sounds doable. Maybe paint a vase or dance the rumba or cook something. Nope. This article wanted you to suffer. It primarily suggests a Bikram yoga class. Cosmo is hell bent on stirring up a deep kind of pain, the sort that makes you hate your spouse's face and the hellish yoga sauna where you nearly died. All you wanted to do was reignite the spark of love that brought you together, but now you're sure you want a divorce. Or, at the very least, another separate vacation.

Scrapbook Together
Nothing says "manly activity" like scrapbooking with one's wife. Double points if you can get him to cut photographs into hearts using crinkle scissors. Triple points if he's wearing a Snuggie. Later, when he can no longer see straight from lining up corners, get cozy in bed while wearing matching, flannel nightgowns and don't give up the goods. Yay for marriage!

Train for a Marathon
By God, this article wants you to die from leg cramps, doesn't it? I say skip the marathon and join my Couch to 0K! Training is going well. You can join us Sunday through Saturday, at 5AM, in bed, where my good friend Karen and I are already not working out. Be warned: if you exercise, we kick you out of the group. We're a fastidious bunch.

Play Paintball
Thanks to RiRi and Chris Brown, bruises are super sexy for the summer! Get your purple lumps on at the local paintball field and try not to shoot each other in the face. Nobody wants to lose an eye. Unless you're into pirate role play, I guess.

Have a Play Day at the Park
Everyone talks about safety tips when you're a child, but now you're all grown up and who's there to keep you from dying? Me. Follow these tips while playing on the playground and you'll be fine.

Tip 1: Don't talk to strange children. Their adults might confuse your intentions.
Tip 2: Share the slide. Just because your legs reach the bottom does not mean you get to hog the space.
Tip 3: You already look ridiculous playing in the park. Nobody thinks grown-ups "run sexy" or "took that baseball to the face in an adorable way". Accept it, and choose to wear something comfortable. Gucci doesn't belong on the Frisbee golf course.

Go Camping
Apparently, roughing it at Motel 8 doesn't count. I tried. Believe me, I tried. There were promises of favors. So we went shopping for sleeping bags. At REI, our local outdoors-y store, the sales guy held up a windproof, neon orange hammock. "It's great," he said. "You can wrap the sides around you for warmth! It comes with a rain guard, which mounts right over the hammock. Basically, what you've got here is an all-weather, off-the-ground sleeping bag. It'll even keep you warm to negative temperatures." He stared expectantly with his large, eyes. I laughed hysterically. My God, this man was a born comedian! Why wasn't he at the Funny Bone, performing every night? It turns out he wasn't joking. And we now own a neon orange, off-the-ground, all-weather, warm-to-negative-temperatures hammock with a rain guard. And next week, I'm taking a separate vacation from the spouse.

Take a Trip to an Exotic Location
Or, if you're broke, like me, tell your husband you're going to an exotic location that he rarely visits. Blindfold him and lead him down the stairs while whispering hints in his ear. "It's hot! There are bubbles involved! Cramped spaces!" When you reach the laundry room, peel off the blindfold and hand him a basket of laundry so he can participate in the chores.

I hope you've enjoyed your date night with me, mocking date nights. Aren't you glad you're married, now, and can give up? (If you're not married and are therefore still forced to go on dates, know that we're laughing at you.) You already know the Lesson of the Day: skip the Hallmark Dates and Do It instead.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Explaining the 60s: New Evidence

Have you read my post about the 60s? You should. I only mention the 60s once, near the end, and only for shock value. Frankly, it adds nothing pertinent to my post. One of my (slightly-obsessed-with-accuracy-since-he's-a-librarian) friends, Andrew, confronted me with this evidence. My cat and I frowned at him.

Okay, I frowned at him. My cat continued sleeping on my leg and whistling through her tiny cat nasal passages. My dog, however, gave me a very supportive half head-tilt, because she's awesome.

Later, though, I had to admit my friend was right. The 60s were simply bursting with things to mock! How could I pass up that opportunity? Especially since I invest so much of my extracurricular energies into bringing back "groovy".

So enjoy, Andrew. I'm giving you one, full minute of 60s research. Here's everything I could collect from the internet in a minute.

HEY, MOMMA! WELCOME TO THE SIXTIES.

The 1960s was a decade that began on 1 January 1960 and ended on 31 December 1969. (Thank you, Wikipedia. I would never have figured that out on my own.)

Nobody in the entire world wanted to be alive during the 60s. This is made evident by the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Portuguese Colonial War, a war between Pakistan and India, the Six Days War, the Algerian War, a coup in Greece, and the Nigerian Civil War. When the globe wasn't at war, it was busy violently protesting war and making babies. Apparently violence is a turn on for hippies.

In 1964, China detonated its first atomic bomb. This was followed by a butterfly burping across the world. Reverse butterfly effect.

Canada adopted the "Quiet Revolution". They'd talked about an all out civil war, but it sounded messy and confrontational, so they stuck with a quieter version. This photograph was taken during the fray.

Argentinian Marxist Che Guevara sacrificed his life and freedom so that, years later, Americans would be able to make obscure, comedic tourist nick-nacks, spray-painted with his name and face.

Alvarado took power in Peru. A hippie took a toke and slept off his high.

Someone found and painted this bus. And then chose to drive around in public and allow it to be photographed. Later, his children died of shame and couldn't get a prom date.

The New York Radical Women, led by Robin Morgan, began heavily protesting beauty pageants, claiming the event perpetuated the idea of "mindless-boob-girlies". She called for women to burn their bras and their voter cards. Possibly because of this counter-intutive voter card burning, beauty pageants not only continued, but have expanded to include small children and dogs.

Russian space exploration lost its sense of direction with the death of their lead chief designer. Which is not to imply that they ever had any direction, but now they could blame it on someone.

Mary Poppins was released to theaters. Everyone was confused by the LSD-driven animation scene, but wholeheartedly agreed with the line, "Kindly do not attempt to cloud the issue with facts!"

Annnnnnnnnd... One minute is up. I hope you enjoyed my foray into mocking the 60s. Obviously there is no lesson here, beyond the obvious: Don't Relive the 60s. Join me next time to complain about the seventies.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Butter Cookies and Scowls

"I can't wait to be a grown-up," said Austin. For close to ten minutes now, I'd been torturing him. You know: that lovely adventure we call "lunch". Can you believe that I forced him to eat an entire celery stick? Barbaric, is what I am. Tipping backward in his chair, he kicked unhappily at the table. "Grown-ups get to eat all the popsicles and sugar they want. I'll get to eat so much sugar when I'm a grown-up."

I could have laughed. I could have lectured him on diabetes and weight loss management and how I have to work out for three hours to burn off one slice of Mary Angela's incredibly gooey, garlicky, crunchy pizza. And don't forget the salty Parmesan. Extra life lesson for you: if anyone says you've used too much Parmesan, cut that person out of your life. You don't need that kind of negativity.

But I didn't lecture. I didn't rant, because I'd just come down from a chemical high. Between the dishsoap, the Pledge, the Clorox, and the Pine-sol, I wasn't forming coherent sentences. And yes, I'm aware I can clean my house with vinegar, but I like my house to smell like chemicals. It's the only way to tell I've accomplished anything.

"Actually," I said to Austin. "Yes, you can." Because it was true. The one benefit of being an adult (and there truly aren't any others) is being able to decide what you eat. So for lunch, I had coffee and a pecan muffin.

Being an adult sucks. Really, it does. Bills, no money, having to repair cable wires without knowing what cable wires are called. Cleaning out gutters (like I've EVER done that), washing dishes, bathing the dog, bathing the cat! Weeds. More weeds. Weeds that refuse to die when you drown them in seventeen gallons of weed poison. Dead flowers from all the weed poison. Spiders, more bills, grocery shopping on a budget, wiping down dirty toilets, potty training...

I could go on, but I know you've mentally added forty-one things to my list. Being an adult sucks. Once again, the only benefit is consumption of food and caffeine. Let's hear it for legally addictive stimulants!

I wish I was a toddler. Life's easier as a toddler, although I've yet to meet one who appreciates it. Toddlers just don't understand what they've got going for them. But now, thanks to my boredom and lack of a career, you can benefit! Over the past week, I've been observing some behavior that I'd like to share with you. Prepare yourself. Are you prepared? Here it is:

Toddlers are happier than adults.

And, yes, my guinea pig (pictured here, dancing in a lovely pink tutu) is related to me and was fully aware of the observation. So you can be assured all my data is properly tainted, as any good, scientific data should be.

Do you want to be happier? Of course you do. So I'll teach you. Let's get in the right mindset. You are a toddler. Stop guzzling that beer and grab a mug of 2%: the drink of demi-gods and baby cows alike! Dress only in organic bamboo cotton and scream if it's not decorated with your favorite action hero. Ready? Let's learn to be happier.

Lesson 1: Comfort and Flexibility
Over the course of my extensive research, I've noticed several, key areas that toddlers regularly confront: communication, hunger, exhaustion, and boredom. Responses to these core concepts are impossible to predict. Toddlers are, at heart, an unpredictable dervish. Adults around you may try to ease your transition between activities, so that you learn to be comfortable and flexible. First, refuse to become comfortable or flexible. Excellent ways to avoid adaptability are: arch your back, scream loudly (to avoid hearing reasonable argument), and throw your face into a pile of stuffed animals. Try to carry this over into every aspect of your life. The store doesn't carry your size of Dora underwear? Scream. Someone says you can't have a snack during your business meeting? Fall on the ground like a limp fish and give up on life.

Lesson 2: Communication
One benefit of toddlerhood is limited speech. Insist on communicating with other adults through grunts, whines, and animal sounds, even if you know the correct word. Double points if you can get the adult to stop using words and mimic you. If they don't understand, turn your head toward a wall and cry. Remember our foundation: be inflexible. Just because language exists doesn't mean we should use it. Monkeys have been getting along for years without speaking in full sentences. If you need a refresher course, make unintelligible, guttural growls until your adult suggests an activity you enjoy.

Lesson 3: Hunger
You might never eat again. True story. The whole world could run out of food at any given moment, despite adults insisting they've handled the food situation. Yes, someone just went grocery shopping, but you can't guarantee the adults won't eat every single piece of food in the house in one sitting, without sharing. It could happen. Scream for food constantly. If they forget you're hungry for even a second, your life is over. Even if you've just eaten an entire meal, and can't possibly fit another bite, continue asking for food. You can store it under the couch, in the cushions, next to your mattress, and in the bathroom, like a tiny hoarder. Yes, this food will spoil, so ask for more in a few minutes. If the secret supply runs out, you're dead. Additional, fun ways to express your hunger are: dumping out your juice cup, feeding the dog your dinner and then asking for more, and insisting on eating other people's food, even though it's the exact same food on your plate.

Lesson 4: Exhaustion
At all cost, adults must not recognize that you are tired. Excellent ways to avoid showing you are tired include: falling asleep in your chair while eating, conking off in the middle of climbing the stairs, or passing out on top of the cat while playing hand held video games. If the adult attempt to transition you into a more comfortable sleeping position, scream hysterically. Comfort must be avoided! Wake up just enough to convince the adult you are fine, and then fall back asleep in the middle of the next activity, when they turn their back. Extra points if you crash on the lawn with a shovel as your pillow. The only appropriate times to fall asleep are: while taking a three-mile hike after demanding the stroller be left at home, at a festival your parents paid $126 a piece for, or twelve seconds before arriving at the beach.

Lesson 5: Boredom
Boredom is a fatal illness. True story. It'll kill ya. If adults around you aren't entertaining enough, you should force them to enjoy you (you little treasure). These years fly by; soon your adults will miss getting to play with you. Have fun games on hand they'll appreciate, like: Let's Throw Things at the Windows, Scream at the Puzzle Pieces for Not Magically Fitting, and the all-time favorite, Mopping with the Dog Water. If your adult seems stressed out, suggest they come up with a game, so they feel included in the process. But, because you must uphold your foundation concept, don't agree to the game. Say it's boring, and insist they think of another. After twelve suggestions, reluctantly agree to the game. Demand they dazzle you. Don't forget to grunt. Words are not our friends, and only make our lives unhappier. After the game is set up, immediately change the rules and scream at the adult for not following your new rules. If, by chance, you like the game, find something else to complain about that your adult can't fix. The birds are too loud, the grass is the wrong shade of green, or your shirt is itchy.

I think, perhaps, I have misled you. Did I say that toddlers were happier? What I meant was, how in the bejeezus are they not consumed by nervous breakdowns every second of the day? They have no concept of time and space, cannot possibly begin to understand from where people come and go, and can't grasp the concept of a moral compass. Did your toddler just punch his brother for stealing a block? Of course he did. That's justice, in toddler-world. Did he scream because you fed him broccoli? Of course he did; he's terrified he'll never see a Pop-tart again. He lives in a world of kneecaps, following rules he can't negotiate, juiced up on more sugar than most adults should have in a week. Have you seen the ingredient list in children's snacks? It's a wonder he isn't running in circles through the house screaming at the top of his lungs. Although mine usually are.

Being an adult probably is best, after all. Sure, we get fewer rewards and far fewer animated movies, but we can eat chocolate chip cookies whenever we want and draw on walls without being yelled at.

That sounds like a good deal to me. So tip on back, little man. Kick the floor and scowl at your vegetables. Old age will come soon enough, with its butter cookies and hard candy. You can eat them while you're cleaning out the gutter and washing fleas off the cat.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Freedom Feels Like

Did you ever watch Hogan's Heroes as a kid? Maybe I'm too old and boring. Hogan's Heroes was an excellent show, centered around a cast of US war prisoners stuck in a Nazi concentration camp. Upon further inspection, you discover they're not really "prisoners", per say, because they get out rather regularly to spy on the Nazis. They've been assigned to this prison.

Parenting reminds me so much of Hogan's Heroes. My children are like tiny, bumbling prison guards, and I'm forced to spy on them and gather intel so I can better operate around them in the future. Periodically, I break free and manage to shop at Target without one of them tagging along. I return, relaxed, for an extra-long stint in isolation.

(Ha! As if. Isolation sounds heavenly.)

Parenting lowers your standards. It's proven science. I like to think it's an evolution of the mind; a coping mechanism, with which we learn to appreciate the simpler (i.e. cheaper) things in life.

Water balloons instead of water parks.
Chasing tricycles around the cul-de-sac instead of leisurely, kid-free workouts at the gym.
Wiping a toddler's nose on your jeans.

Don't act like you've never wiped your kid's nose on your jeans. Sometimes, you're in the middle of nowhere, with no napkins, and the dude's about to eat snot, and you have no options. It's either your car interior or your clothing. Only one of those fits in a washing machine. Talk about Sophie's Choice.

(Can I just trust you with a secret? I never saw that movie. Have no clue what it's about. That felt good to share.)

Back in the day, you claimed freedom. We fought for it, didn't we? Each day was an adventure, waiting to be seized. Or maybe I'm thinking of Pollyanna, infusing devastating tragedies with happiness. Either way, we took hold of life vigorously and offered no excuses. I remember one particular Saturday, floating down the river in a kayak with a can of beer and good friends. No other activities. Just floating. You can't just float when you have toddlers. They want to be entertained.

"Is that an alligator? How about that one? Look! Look! Mom, look! A turtle! Oh, oh, oh, there's a tree. It looks like a monster. Tell me a story about a tree monster while you paddle against the current in a ten-foot canoe, carrying our picnic to the island, where you'll be eaten alive by mosquitos so I can have one, TV-free afternoon."

Sure, yes, that was an exact quote. Or maybe it was my inner dialogue taking over. Children change our perception of reality. Scary things are scarier. Happy things are happier. Yogic bliss is impossible to achieve because our children are blasting Philadelphia Chickens on Spotify. I'd like to think my life is balanced perfectly, that my children are obedient and good, that I'm sane and healthy, that my husband wants to come home after work. But more often, it's a race to keep up with the clutter, separating the boys so they won't beat each other with stuffed animals, and hurtling the baton at Jeremy as he walks in the door, while I scream, "I just need five minutes without human contact!" Then, I lock myself in the bathroom to finish my Pilates on the sink mat, only to have my cat bat his paw underneath the door.

"Whatcha doin', Mom? I'd love some tuna treats."

On the plus side, these lowered standards come in handy when you're on a budget. And I really do think this is a stay-at-home or work-at-home issue. I don't see working parents dealing with this as much. There's a separation of sanity and reality. "I can let the children play dub-step and Nemo simultaneously, because I'm escaping to the office later". Stay-at-home parents don't have this option. We're ON 24/7, and our vacations are more like overtime. We're forced to find solace in the simple moments, in snippets and pieces stolen from the day. Freedom is somewhat limited, but all the more delicious.

Currently, freedom feels like:

- Peeing, uninterrupted. Picture the heavens opening up and angels descending while singing show tunes in perfect harmony.

- Confusing the children with games they don't understand. They still think "The Quiet Game" is fun. If they're screaming too much, I'll plop them down at the table and challenge them to a match. Sometimes I can milk this up to five minutes.

- Apple juice. Apparently, apple juice is like crack cocaine for children. Mine will scale a mountain for a tumblerful.

- TV. Yes, okay, Perfect(ly Annoying) Parent: TV doesn't work in the long run. But, I can "sometimes" utilize it if I "really" need "ten or fifteen" minutes to "get a chore done". This weekend, at REI, I flipped on Bill Nye the Science Guy. Within five minutes, there were seven children crowded around my phone in a half-circle, discovering volcanos. Periodically, a parent would pass by and collect one, only to have another take their place.

- Drowning out the sound of their bickering with Ben Harper on my iPod. "What's that you say? He punched you? You probably deserved it. Besides, it builds character. Juice box?"

- Skipping nap time so they go to bed early. After laying down the angelic munchkins, my husband will turn to me and ask, "Do you want cuddle and watch SVU?" No. No, thank you. I'm using this rare, extra hour of free time to get two more loads of laundry done, wash the extra dishes, vacuum the guest room, clean out the cat litter, and put the trash on the curb. Maybe we can cuddle after.

- Sitting in my car in the parking lot of the grocery store doing nothing whatsoever. My husband thinks it takes two hours to grocery shop. It doesn't. Sometimes, if I don't feed us very much, I can get it done in fifteen. Is there any vacation more glorious than reading a book in a parking lot? I don't know why Travel Magazine hasn't covered it yet.

This is my life now. I'm still trying to figure out why I'm standing. Usually, I attribute it to the copious amounts of coffee and wine in my bloodstream. And, yes, I do believe that coffee is processed through one's bloodstream. I'm not a biology expert or anything, but I think the blood goes away, eventually, leaving behind only coffee extract.

That's definitely scientific fact.